Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor); Piano Sonata No. 28 in A, Op. 101

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor); Piano Sonata No. 28 in A, Op. 101
PERFORMER: Hélène Grimaud (piano); Staatskapelle Dresden/Vladimir Jurowski
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6595
Hélène Grimaud’s Emperor is something of a disappointment following her fine account of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto (Warner Classics). It’s not that her playing is in any way lacking in stature and grandeur – indeed, much of it is impressive from that point of view – but that some of the Concerto’s most spellbinding moments don’t quite come off. The piano’s nocturne-like first entrance in the slow movement, for example, where Grimaud’s left-hand accents rob the music of its floating dream-like quality; or the finale’s rondo theme, which she plays in an unrelenting fortissimo, disregarding the quiet, transparent sound Beethoven wanted in its alternate pairs of bars.

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The normally admirable Vladimir Jurowski also glosses over a few of the work’s subtleties. The magical moment in the orchestral opening section where the music quietly turns to the minor sounds rather matter-of-fact and lacking in mystery; and the point in the finale where Beethoven revisits the famous hushed join between the Concerto’s last two movements is undermined by a gratuitous crescendo. All these passages are handled with greater finesse by Brendel and Rattle, for instance, or by Uchida and Kurt Sanderling (Philips). Brendel is particularly successful in conveying the lilt of the rondo theme.

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Grimaud’s performance of the Op. 101 Sonata is affectionate and expressive, though it’s curious to find her treating the finale’s fugal development section as though it were an episode in a slower tempo. Murray Perahia offers a more coherent view, and a luminous account of the Sonata as a whole. Misha Donat