Oberon's Grove (US), 1 December 2022

Concert review: Oberon’s Grove (US)

Hélène Grimaud @ Carnegie Hall


Above: Hélène Grimaud in a Benjamin Chasteen portrait

Thursday December 1st, 2022 – The marvelous French pianist Hélène Grimaud offered a unique program – sumptuously played – to a packed Carnegie Hall this evening. Waiting for the concert to begin, I was recalling the last time I saw Ms. Grimaud, playing Ravel with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s on this very stage in 2019, winning a delirious ovation. She drew a similar audience reaction this evening, from her warmly-greeted entrance to a four-encore finale where the crowd simply wouldn’t let her go.

The first half of the program was unusually structured: Ms. Grimaud, looking glamorous in trousers and a golden-hued top, seated herself at the Steinway and regaled us with a series of works by Silvestrov, Debussy, Chopin, and Satie – some familiar, some rare – which were played with only the briefest of pauses between pieces. For nearly an hour, Ms. Grimaud cast a magical spell over us whilst the renowned Carnegie acoustic assured that even the most whispered pianissimo passages floated sublimely on the air.

The hushed opening passages of Valentin Silvestrov‘s Bagatelle I immediately established a mood of reverence in the Hall. Ms. Grimaud, whose recent Deutsche Grammophon release The Messenger features works by the beloved 85-year-old Ukranian composer, followed this with Debussy’s rippling Arabesque No. 1 before returning to Silvestrov for his Bagatelle II,wherein the music’s sense of mystery displayed the peerless Grimaud control of dynamics. We are now enthralled.

The rolling left-hand figurations of Satie’s Gnossienne No. 4 and the pensive moodiness of his Gnossienne No. 1 stood either side of Chopin’s Nocturne in E-Minor, Op. 72, No. 1, with its gorgeous sense of longing. Then more Satie – “En y regardant à deux fois” from Pièces froides, No. 2, which has a gentle sway and a hushed finish.

Elegant, then more animated, Claude Debussy’s La plus que lente has a lovely sense of flow, and a poetic ending. The came two of Chopin’s best-loved works, both in A-Minor: the Mazurka, Op. 17, No. 4 (which at first does not sound anything like a mazurka) and the Waltz , Op. 34, No. 2, with its haunting dynamic shifts.

Familiarity will never prevent me from loving Debussy’s “Clair de lune“; its timeless beauty, and the quirky restlessness of its central section, seemed fresh yet again in Ms. Grimaud’s hands. From its quiet start, Debussy’s Rêverie floats on a sea of dreams before a more impassioned passage springs up. It ends with a quiet sense of urgency. And then, with Satie’s brief “Passer” from Pièces froides, Ms. Grimaud brought this extraordinary musical journey to an end. What a great pleasure to have experienced it: to have been transported out of the darkness and encroaching despair of daily life by this sorceress of the keyboard.

Following the interval, Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana received a performance of glowing intensity from Ms. Grimaud. Though this demanding Schumann score has never been a favorite of mine, there was no denying the perfection of the Grimaud interpretation, wherein the contrasting movements of exuberant virtuosity and touching lyricism were perfectly set forth. 

~ Oberon

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