Hélène Grimaud

Pianist Grimaud Brings Power to Performance

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Pianist Hélène Grimaud is a strikingly individual performer, whose interpretations have sometimes puzzled critics.

But on Friday, the French pianist delivered a stellar performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. It was deeply personal, yet it also summoned all the grandeur and power this piece demands.

Music director Louis Langrée was on Music Hall’s podium for the orchestra’s first concert of 2014, which also included Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F Major.

Brahms’ monumental First Piano Concerto is a work of symphonic proportions. During its 50-minute span, there are big mood swings between arch-romantic emotion and interior moments. The orchestra plays an important collaborative role in this journey of mind and spirit.

Grimaud, 44, is a fascinating artist, who has recorded both Brahms concertos for Deutsche Grammophon. Another disc with cellist Sol Gabetta was recently nominated for a 2014 Grammy Award. When she’s not communicating at the keyboard, she communes with wolves at a conservation center that she co-founded in Westchester County, N.Y.

She has been a regular visitor to Music Hall, and has toured with the Cincinnati Symphony. Grimaud’s technical prowess is undisputed, but now there is a new artistry to her playing.

She phrased with singular beauty in Brahms’ D Minor Concerto. In the first movement, almost a symphony in itself, she captured all the fire and drama of the music, soaring through difficult technical feats with seemingly no effort. Yet lyrical themes, too, were poetic. One of the most mesmerizing moments was the pianist’s dialogue with the horns, suddenly in the realm of chamber music.

The Adagio was inspired, and the audience didn’t move a muscle. Here, her playing was deeply felt and freely expressive, yet she did not draw attention to herself. The pianist plunged into the gypsy finale without a pause, and propelled the piece to an exciting finish.

 

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