Also, Piano Sonata No. 28. Helene Grimaud, piano; Vladimir Jurowski, Dresden Staatskapelle. DG B0009840-02.
The booklet note describes pianist Helene Grimaud as "among the most sagacious of today's keyboard artists, a philosopher at the concert grand." It goes on to say that her interpretation of the Beethoven Fifth Piano Concerto is "a journey of the soul through the vales of worldly despair and over the peaks of ideologies. A musical journey to a world viewed from a melancholic interior--and a journey in time from Beethoven's world to ours." She herself says of the Concerto that it is a work of "philosophy cast in music, a philosophy that sets out to neutralize human contradictions."
Phew! That's a lot for any piece of music to mean and a lot for any musician to convey. Does Ms. Grimaud live up to the rather overwrought prose? Well, she certainly plays with dazzling virtuosity. She must have ten fingers on each hand. And there is no denying that her performance of the Concerto is thrilling in the extreme.
But I also admit to finding the interpretation a bit over-driven in parts, leaving one almost breathless at the end. Interesting, too, that a performer described as a "philosopher" would produce something that appears more grandiose than other pianists' readings. And it's not that her realization is any faster than other performances. It just seems that she sometimes pushes it harder than most others do, despite some lovely poetic moments, especially in the slow movement. Frankly, though, I much preferred her rendition of the accompanying Piano Sonata No. 28, where her natural lyricism holds sway.
Nor am I sure that DG did her any favors with the sound. The piano seems too clangy and thumpy, and the Dresden Staatskapelle appears too thin and bass shy alongside her. To be certain it wasn't just my ears that were faulty on the night I listened, I put on Arrau (Philips), Ashkenazy (London), Kovacevich (Philips), Perahia (Sony), and Kempff (DG) for comparison, and those recordings all sounded warmer, fuller, better balanced, and more realistic to my ears. Anyway, while Ms. Grimaud produces both an exhilarating, grandiloquent, yet often lyrical rendition of the "Emperor" Concerto, for my money it is maybe not a performance for the ages.
Adapted from a review the author originally published in the $ensible Sound magazine.
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer
For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.
For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst
I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio
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