WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G; Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109; Piano Sonata in A flat, Op. 110
PERFORMER: Hélène Grimaud (piano); New York PO/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-26869-2
Is there room for yet another recording of Beethoven’s G major Concerto? Well, yes, if it’s as beautifully judged and as unselfconscious in its poetic expressiveness as this one. We have recently had a complete set of the concertos from Brendel and Rattle, which is spellbinding throughout; yet Grimaud can hold her own even in such exalted company, and there are moments where I find her actually preferable. The start of the first movement’s central development is one such: while Brendel seems concerned to make a dramatic point out of the piano’s entry, where the pervasive repeated-note motif invokes a sudden switch of key, Grimaud treats it very effectively with gentle understatement; and her pianissimo is breathtakingly sustained through the following pages. Both players give a rapt account of the famous slow movement; but it is Brendel who shows more sparkle and wit in the finale, where Grimaud’s generous use of the sustaining pedal lets her down a little. Masur and the New York Philharmonic are sympathetic partners throughout.
Of the two late sonatas, Op. 110 strikes me as the more successful, with a profound sense of calm in its opening movement, a deeply felt account of the recitative and aria, and a well-shaped fugue. Not that there are serious complaints about Op. 109, though its scherzo perhaps treads just a little too heavily, and the theme of the variation finale doesn’t quite sing as it ought to. Grimaud’s rubato in the first variation, too, undermines the music’s natural flow. All the same, a most impressive disc. Misha Donat