New Classical Tracks: Exhilarating Beethoven from Helene Grimaudby Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
The "Emperor" Concerto is usually thought to be as bold and heroic as its nickname. By taking a different, introspective approach, Grimaud sheds new light on this classic.
St. Paul, Minn. — For the young Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski, working with pianist Helene Grimaud is an extremely gripping adventure. It's her spontaneity he finds exciting.
Grimaud's latest musical expedition offers a contemporary update on a Beethoven classic, the "Emperor" Concerto (the Piano Concerto No. 5), with Jurowski and the Dresden State Orchestra. Grimaud reached deep inside herself to create an exhilarating new interpretation of this masterpiece.
Helene Grimaud is an incredibly insightful artist. Pairing her with Vladimir Jurowski is a real coup because both musicians are deeply thoughtful about the music they make.
Jurowski is an attentive listener whose sensitivity to the music takes the listener beyond space and time. Helene Grimaud works beautifully in that creative environment.
Grimaud is a very tactile performer. She feels her way through the notes, rarely looking at the keyboard. Her introspective nature is quite effective in Beethoven's bold concerto.
For many years, this work has been interpreted as a portrait of a heroic battle. We hear that in Leon Fleisher's performance with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. Fleisher is a five-generation Beethoven pupil. Passion, not technique, was the lesson Fleisher learned from his teacher, Artur Schnabel. By separating each note he gives the first movement a percussive, somewhat strident feel which accentuates his passionate approach.
Grimaud takes a lighter approach. Her Beethoven is effervescent. Each note sparkles as it flows elegantly to the next. Jurowski plays with the tempo, giving Grimaud a chance to savor each orchestral entrance.
The first movement really has to soar as the soloist works through the cascade of arpeggios, trills and scales. Helene Grimaud really grabs our attention by mastering this ascending arc. The prayerful adagio is heavenly.
"The piano concerto is like a beast for whom one has incredible respect," Grimaud explains. "You study it -- and in the end this beast reveals itself as a teacher."
Grimaud tames that beast in the beautiful slow movement. With her tender, reflective approach, Grimaud invites us to drift away with her.
When Beethoven's pupil Carl Czerny gave the Vienna premiere of this piece, he warned that the slow movement "must not drag." Jurowski gives this adagio a gentle tempo which does keep moving as it gradually leads to the expressive finale.
Grimaud complements Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto with the composer's Piano Sonata No. 28. This late sonata is a refreshing palette cleanser.
Beethoven dedicated this challenging work to the Baroness Dorothea Von Ertmann, a friend and former student who was one of Vienna's most talented musicians. Beethoven pulls out all the stops in the concluding section, which is a complicated sonata allegro form with a fugue embedded in the middle section. Grimaud plays this complex work with expressive poetry.
There are three things that make Beethoven a truly modern composer, according to Grimaud.
"His incredible vitality, his desire to never give up, and the philosophical language of his music."
Grimaud is attracted to the struggle in Beethoven's music, and to his ability to ascend beyond the human condition. These things make his music timeless, yet contemporary.
Beethoven is Grimaud's hero. His music is an incredible teacher, allowing her to reach new musical landscapes.