Broad Street Review (US), 10 December 2013

Concert Review: Broad Street Review (US)

Hélène Grimaud tackles Brahms (1st review)Johannes Brahms may have been a musical genius, but his natural gifts couldn't fully compensate for his lack of formal training. He refined his craft of composition over time, borrowing influences from Beethoven and his friend Schumann, and was intensely self-critical. Brahms didn't start writing symphonies until his early 40s, although several orchestral works preceded the great four symphonies, including two Serenades, and the massive Piano Concerto No. 1. Brahms fanatics are sometimes loath to admit it, but this lush concerto, written by a headstrong 20-something, is filled with clumsy constructions, not to mention an intense passion and extraordinary solo piano writing. I admire performances that don't shy away from the music's roughness, and that was the spirit that Hélène Grimaud brought to the score in her performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The superb French virtuoso relished in the brawn of the music and used its inherently gruff gestures to underline the tension as well as the callow, if honest emotion. In the exposed solo passages, Grimaud drew out her phrases with great freedom, with a rhythmic flexibility that would have been self-indulgent under lesser hands. This was deeply poetic and thoughtful playing, as much a tribute to Grimaud's artistry as to the rich expressivity of the music itself when interpreted with such daring.


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