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Hélène Grimaud

Saturday, December 3, 2016


The Boston Musical Intelligencer

November 19

Brahms with Grimaud & BSO

The Boston Musical IntelligencerThursday night the BSO continued its survey of Brahms’s symphonies and piano concerti, with pianist Hélène Grimaud after having opened with a first hearing of the BSO commission, Timo Andres’s Everything Happens So Much. A truly unforgettable reading of the Brahms second piano concerto reached the evening’s apex. This week’s concerts and last, these traversal of Brahms symphonies and piano concerti, are being recorded with an eye to a possible future release on BSO Classics, the orchestra’s in-house label. The audience kindly attempted to suppress noise during the music, but the pauses between movements were a longer than usual cacophony of coughing, snorting, shuffling, and sniffling. Born in Palo Alto and raised in rural Connecticut, Timo Andres (b. 1985) is now based in Brooklyn. A pianist and composer, at Yale he studied with Ingram Marshall, and was a Composition Fellow at Tanglewood in 2006. A frequent performer with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Andres encompasses a wealth of compositional influences and styles, engaging with the full tradition of music, canonic to contemporary, crafting works which are conversations with other works and composers. For this commission, the brief suggested “that the composers respond in some way to Brahms’ music in writing their own pieces,” as the program book has it. Andres’s Everything Happens So Much, in Robert Kirzinger’s words, “doesn’t quote Brahms directly but rather takes that composer’s technique of combining musical gestures of great potential together in tight, dynamic counterpoint.” Elsewhere Andres has quoted: The Blind Banister, his piano concerto, glosses a cadenza Beethoven wrote for his Piano Concerto No. 2; his piano quintet starts with a musical kernel from Schumann’s piano quintet; and his own piano quartet, I Found it by the Sea, reflects on Brahms. So Andres seems an obvious composer for such a commission. In a single movement, running about 11 minutes, “Everything” is large, requiring (in sum) double winds, full percussion, harp, piano, celesta, and strings. The title is a borrowing, coming from a now-defunct Twitter feed called “Horse_ebooks” and, as a phrase, is either meaningless of profound—and that ambiguity is the point for Andres; he wrote a composition with “a surface tension to it, a kind of restlessness… things happening at different rates and which magically work out contrapuntally.” From the opening twittering of birds this score progresses to a complex, destabilizing syncopation punctuated by the rumble of bass and drum. The strings and winds build upon an unexpectedly reversed dotted rhythm. Lush melodicism with intimations of jazzy inflection move the music forward. Here I heard as much Ives as Brahms, as a marching band irrupts into the music then passes on by. A calm, neo-romantic string meditation returns. With a variety of orchestral solos, Everything Happens So Much combines solo and ensemble lines, and ends in a quieter vein, as it began, with a resolution that is as much an opening as a closure. Hélène Grimaud entered for Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83. First performed with the composer as soloist in 1881, the music was first heard in Boston the following year and has appeared countless times since then. As canonic as the Beethoven concerti, this one is programmed somewhat less frequently, perhaps because it places stronger demands on members of the orchestra (individual solos as well as tight ensemble requirements) as on the pianist. This stellar outing was filled with insight. I heard clearly the second movement Allegro appassionato respond to the music of Tchaikovsky, situating this composition in its place in music history. This is just one moment among the whole, indicative of the care and thought brought to this performance. Grimaud gave equal attention to the inner musical lines and the BSO responded in kind, realizing the complexity n in all its nuanced glory. Nelsons and Grimaud from last week (Winslow Townson photo) The third movement Andante features a large and gorgeous cello solo, one many listeners (not just in Boston) associate with the late Jules Eskin (who died Tuesday). Acting Principal Cello Martha Babcock owned this solo, bringing a beauty of phrasing, a replete at one point with a poignant sign, a depth of understanding, and a full palette of color to this music. The synchronicity between Babcock and Grimaud was perfect. This second piano concerto was definitely one not to miss. Nelsons then led the orchestra in a thrilling and a tuneful reading of Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 (1883). For all the music’s inherent excitement, I missed the careful attention to inner voices, the contrapuntal building blocks of Brahms’ compositional rhetoric. Leaping from peak to peak obscures value when the valleys disappear. While many in Symphony Hall reveled, I left craving more. Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College. He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra The post Brahms with Grimaud & BSO appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

NY Times

November 20

Review: Brahms at the Boston Smphony, With Hélène Grimaud

If conductors can be divided into those who excel at Brahms’s First and Third symphonies and those who do best with the Second and Fourth, Andris Nelsons is the former.




The Boston Musical Intelligencer

November 10

BSO Opens Brahms Mini-Festival

We can note Tuesday evening’s BSO concert for two Brahms performances and the world premiere of a BSO commission from Eric Nathan, a New Yorker who now lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island. Of his the space of a door, the composer noted that the title refers to his first viewing the interior of the Providence Athenæum: “I imagined the energy latent in all the countless stories, the voices of authors and their characters who live in these books, each work a portal to another world.” Bright fanfares open the space and a huge C major chord, which Robert Kirzinger reminds us, is intentional homage to a moment in Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle “…where the flinging open of the fifth door reveals the vista of Bluebeard’s kingdom,” which for Nathan parallels his first sight of the brightly lit interior of the Athenæum. The music is largely active and strong, and when not, atmospheric with occasional punctuations from brass and percussion. Nathan employed a single brushed cymbal muted by a cushion on which it rested as a kind of connecting element between episodes. The effect was almost as of a breath being taken or expelled—very intriguing, very well orchestrated. Its ultimate impression was of a stasis often populated by active tremolandi in the strings, playing in asynchronous fashion in overlapping layers and independent of one another. Under Nelsons, this spoke clearly and eloquently—a composer’s best hope for a first performance fulfilled. It will be performed again Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week. The mighty Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor of Johannes Brahms was up next, and I’m happy to say that its performance was superb. The challenges of this early work (op. 15, from 1859 when Brahms was only 25-years-old) are manifold for everyone involved. Pride of place in difficulty falls to the soloist, who must not only possess a formidable and powerful technique but an appreciation for the several romantic conceits this harbors. In this, in every way possible, Hélène Grimaud triumphed. She was the master of all the challenges confronting her. Her affect was eloquent and heartfelt, dynamic and powerful, accurate and soulful. She could be poetic, heroic, collaborative, and profoundly sensitive as the score demanded, an ideal interpreter and performer for this thorny, storm-tossed and ultimately triumphant concerto. In the middle movement—moonlit and shimmering—she and Nelsons limned a glowing picture of repose. Readers are urged to visit Symphony Hall to hear this remarkable performance. And, four times next week, Grimaud and Nelsons will play the great B-flat Major Piano Concerto Op. 83 that Brahms wrote 22 years later. The masterful performances heard this week auger well for these forthcoming collaborations. In a taut reading of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in C Minor (1876), there was much to be admired, and some disappointment. I found the loud, brisk, forward-march feel of the first movement lacking in nuance, though beautifully played. Nelsons’s deliberate tempo for the coda, however, felt particularly apt. The second movement was quite well conceived, yet the softer moments were again too loud. Where were those really gorgeous piani and pianissimi heard so tellingly in the earlier concerto? I was pleased to hear a couple of moments of portamenti in the strings, which helped lend an old-world character to the BSO’s playing, as did Nelsons’s clearly indicated and appropriate rubati. Concertmaster Malcolm Lowe’s solos were ravishing at the movement’s end. The symphony’s light-hearted third movement came truly grazioso, free and flexible, with excellent dynamic terracing and wonderful give-and-take between the players. Bosky woodwind color wafted airily from Principal Clarinet William R. Hudgins and John Ferrillo, Principal Oboe. Andris Nelsons and Hélène Grimaud The introduction to the fourth movement is thrillingly innovative. The tempo mark is Adagio. Two slow crescendo approaches to full-orchestra fp marks are followed by string pizzicattos marked stringendo molto (quickening greatly). All these were played flawlessly without a hint of indecision. A restless few seconds of rushing strings pass portentously, leading to a dramatic timpani strike and roll marked ff diminuendo, forcefully played with his usual panache by Timothy Genis. Brahms then scores a thrilling set of horn calls set above muted violins and violas playing atmospheric tremolandi as diaphanous accompaniment. If this were not enough, a solemn chorale is intoned by trombones, horns, and low woodwinds, all of which sets the stage for the noble C major legato theme played by unison violins and violas that has become one of the composer’s most cherished and remembered melodies. Nelsons led with full confidence and ideal tempi, inspiring the orchestra to play familiar works in a refreshingly clear-eyed fashion, illuminating detail and bringing forth all the drama and excitement which so pervade this final movement. This clearly thrilled the audience, and perhaps a few of the players. In sum, a terrific evening. John W. Ehrlich is music director of Spectrum Singers, which he founded 37 years ago. He has been a singer and conductor in the Boston area for more than 45 years. The post BSO Opens Brahms Mini-Festival appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

My Classical Notes

August 26

Grimaud Plays Brahms

While this CD is not new, it represents an amazing set of performances, so it deserves to be heard! Helene Grimaud performs both piano concertos by Brahms. Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83, with the Wiener Philharmoniker Performed by Hélène Grimaud (piano), and conducted by Andris Nelsons. This is romantic music-making from one of the world’s most captivating pianists. These are deeply personal interpretations of the dark, passionate sound-worlds of both Brahms piano concertos. A unique, multi-faceted artist who continues to push creative boundaries, Grimaud is one of few pianists to conquer the monumental dimensions of both works. Recorded at Vienna’s legendary Musikverein, the 2nd Piano Concerto marks Grimaud’s debut recording with the celebrated Wiener Philharmoniker; coupled with the equally coveted Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks for the 1st Concerto, Grimaud has discovered exemplary musical counterparts. Conductor Andris Nelsons – dubbed “Der Wunderdirigent” by the Süddeutsche Zeitung – is one of today’s most exciting interpreters of Romantic repertoire. BBC Music Magazine wrote: “a superb pianist at the height of her powers […] teamed to a conductor with whom she seems to have instinctive rapport…there’s drama aplenty in the big first movement of the [Second] Concerto. Nelsons secures some delightfully pointed orchestral playing in No. 1’s finale, and really creates the restorative calm of No. 2’s slow movement.” Here is Ms. Grimaud in the music of Brahms:



My Classical Notes

August 6

Helene Grimaud Plays for Us

Earlier today I listened to pianist Helene Grimaud performs the first movement of the Beethoven Moonlight sonata. I have always been very demanding of how this piece is interpreted, because so many pianists fail to perform it in a true Legato style. Many pianists shorten the second note of the famous melody, rendering the music to be unstable, and with incorrect rhythm. Ms. Grimaud’s playing was flawless and very satisfying. So… I have for you today more music performed by Helen Grimaud: Hélène Grimaud: Résonances Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances for piano, Sz. 56, BB 68 Berg: Piano Sonata, Op. 1 Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor, S178 Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K310 All performed by Hélène Grimaud (piano) On this CD, Hélène Grimaud presents a solo recital program, which she took on a world-wide tour. The pianist has conceived of works spanning a wide range of emotions and styles, yet all linked by their origin in that singular musical line of succession: the great composers of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Her new album bears the title Résonance, reflecting Grimaud’s imaginative approach to this stimulating compilation of masterpieces. Hélène Grimaud brings all her artistic maturity and a perfect balance between intellect and emotion to bear on highly dramatic sonatas by Mozart – the A minor K.310 – Liszt and Berg, leavened by Bartók’s irresistible Romanian Folk Dances. Here is Ms. Grimaud in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata:

Classical music and opera by Classissima



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