Grimaud passionate in Shriver concert

February 01, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Pianist Helene Grimaud's program Saturday night in the Shriver Hall Concert Series was simple and without frills -- well-suited to her honest, direct and passionate pianism.

Beethoven's late Sonatas in E major (opus 109) and A-flat major (opus 110) were followed after intermission by Brahms' early Sonata in F-sharp minor (opus 2). Although numbered second, Brahms' F-sharp minor Sonata is actually the first of the composer's three early piano sonatas. That it is the least familiar of those works must have something to do with its musical challenges: It is the most lavishly virtuosic and daringly rhapsodic of the three and the most difficult to hold together.

But from its opening onslaught of double octaves to the quasi-improvisational cadenza of its close, Grimaud made a compelling case. She clearly loves this piece; she has been a significant presence on the international music scene for almost half of her 28 years, and this sonata, which she recorded when she was the age (19) of the composer when he wrote it, has figured in her repertory for most of that time.

The work emerged with urgency and power, tempered with tenderness and poetic feeling. Grimaud has a take-no-prisoners approach to the keyboard and, despite her commanding technique, a few passages of muddied textures in the finale suggested pianistic fatigue.

But if her fingers -- on this occasion -- failed her momentarily, her mind never did. And the mind that came through was consistently logical, stimulating and sensitive.

In the two Beethoven sonatas before intermission, Grimaud took her listeners to an exalted level. For some listeners -- though not for this one -- her tempos may have been a bit fast. But these are pieces in which the musical center of gravity comes in the final movements.

Grimaud built the theme-and-variations finale of opus 109 to a conclusion of rapt fulfillment and played the recitative, aria and fugue in the corresponding movement of opus 110 with a firmly etched line, as well as with an impressive plasticity of touch and considerable tonal beauty.

Grimaud's two affecting encores were the second of Rachmaninov's opus 33 Etudes-Tableaux and the third of Brahms' opus 117 Intermezzi.

Pub Date: 2/01/99

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