Brahms: Piano Concertos (Grimaud)Hélène Grimaud revisits past glories while exploring new frontiers. You'll read reviews of this CD where itinerant and half-hearted Brahmsians will tell you that the tempi taken by conductor Andris Nelsons and soloist Helene Grimaud in this utterly remarkable, inspired and inspiring recording of the two Brahms piano concertos are too slow and leaden. You must not believe them. Just as true Brahmsians appreciate the glacial tempi of the symphonies in Celibidache's legendary complete set, so here Nelson's slower pace is all about unfolding the Brahms universe with its profound richness of detail and astonishing warmth of tone. There are so many recordings of Brahms First Piano Concerto, but few could be classified as Desert Island Discs and in fact many are downright disappointing. Well this performance of it recorded live in Munich changes all of that, and if by the end your legs are still able to support the weight of your body, assume that Brahms just isn't really your thing. From that first opening orchestral chord, surely the most arresting ever captured on disc, Nelsons announces the epic scope of the enterprise ahead. Just three seconds in and your breath's been taken away, and from there, he and remarkable Frenchwoman Grimaud are like two Alices in the Brahmsian Wonderland, each glorious new entry, whether in the piano itself, on the horn, or especially in the lower strings, unfolding at a tempo beyond human agency, like the clear dawn emerging after a storm, dazzling the senses in the process. Grimaud's drama-charged, percussive style, eschews sentimentality but remains passionate nonetheless, filled with an emotion generated from within the music itself, the performers simply a part of a much larger whole. This is Brahms in 3D, everything standing up and being counted, almost as if it has some sort of moral presence all its own, gorgeously captured by the DG engineers in this textbook example of live recording. And then, after two movements of vastly intelligent, intense colour and drama, the finale of the First enters, now transformed into breakneck pace, but never losing its shape or focus as Grimaud, noted for her technical prowess, simply rips the thing apart. The Second Concerto doesn't have quite the same inherent drama, but here it gets treatment as the First, with a different orchestra but the same injection of momentum with each new musical incident. Some people may mark this recording down a star because of Grimaud's noticeably heavy breathing throughout, but many more, and definitely males, will give the allure-advantaged soloist bonus points for the very same reason. My God, what a disc. This article appeared in the Jan 2014 issue of Limelight Magazine.
The Classical Review, September 19, 2023