of Helene Grimaud's recent CD (and of her recitals which included this program)
are between what at first seem to be exceedingly different works by Mozart,
Berg, Liszt, and Bartok. To be sure, all four men were at certain times in their
lives members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, though Grimaud acknowledges that "Bartok
would have strongly resisted this act of appropriation." Perhaps more
significantly, Mozart's Sonata in A minor is often claimed to be one of his most
intensely personal creations, and both the Liszt and the Berg sonatas downright
exemplify the words "intensely personal." (They are also both grounded in B
minor, though the Berg wanders very far indeed from the home key.) Grimaud finds
all three works "operatic" in their passionate outpourings, and claims that
Mozart is "in terms of his period... an extremist in matters of expression." The
sonata "teems with things that were to come later; and it speaks a subjective
language," according to her booklet essay.
It is quite fascinating to hear the Berg Sonata appear right after the Mozart (after a decent pause, of course) — fascinating because one seems practically to lead into the other! This is not because Grimaud plays the Mozart as if it were Berg, or tries to give the Berg a Mozartian treatment — if indeed either approach is even imaginable. But the spirit of Beethoven is certainly hovering over her reading of the Mozart, and she makes the Berg (which is still in sonata form, however complexly reimagined). This is a late-Romantic piece rather than a jagged Expressionistic one. Moreover, the pieces are brought together by a distinctive fluidity in Grimaud's playing — nothing "dry" in either her technique or her temperament, still less anything "brittle" or "spiky." Her piano sound is more pearl than diamond. And yet there is often a headlong movement — practically a tumbling forward, though not in an unmusical rushed way. One hears this quality equally in the opening movement of the Mozart (not exactly the specified Allegro maestoso — more con spirito, if not con fuoco), in the agitated parts of the Berg, and in the Allegro energico sections of the Liszt Sonata, i.e., the first fast passage and the later fugue.
It is this fluidity, along with her ability to be
both headlong and reposeful, that makes Grimaud's reading of the Liszt Sonata so
compelling, and so fitting a follow-up to the Mozart and Berg, though it's of
course a sprawling work rather than compact like the others. Grimaud does not
give a hyper-Romantic performance, nor is she notably restrained. Her formidable
technique makes it possible for her to treat the work, seemingly effortlessly,
as "a music drama guided by the possibilities of the piano, a sonata that is as
theatrical as a sonata can be," in her words.
As for the Bartok, I couldn't hear much in the
way of "resonances," even between the two Hungarians, but the brief Romanian
Dances are a refreshingly light finale after all that intensity. Grimaud's
performance ts thoughtful and propulsive at once. And DG's capture of all the
works on the program is superb, filling the listening space with the clear, rich
presence of her piano sound — resonant indeed.