United States Mozart, Berg, Liszt, and Bartók: Hélène Grimaud, piano; Meany Hall, Seattle, 1.11.2012 (BJ)
“Too many notes,” Joseph II is believed to have said to Mozart after attending a performance of one of his operas. It is interesting to speculate on what the emperor might have said in response to Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata: it followed Mozart’s A minor Sonata on the program of Hélène Grimaud’s long awaited return appearance at the University of Washington’s Meany Hall in Seattle.
The Mozart is a work that combines the utmost textural lucidity with a hugely intense emotional impact, and Mlle Grimaud played it in a way that laid the emotion of the music appropriately bare, while respecting the 18th century stylistic elements that in no way impede its universal appeal. Then, moving more than a century forward to Berg, she was called on to project a musical argument that, while also highly emotional, is projected through a much thicker, many layered texture. It’s not a work I love, but the pianist’s incisive delivery made the best possible case for it.
For the second half of the recital, Mlle Grimaud exchanged the hall’s resident Steinway, which she had chosen specifically for its aptness to Mozart, for the Seattle Symphony’s instrument, judging it better suited to the Liszt Sonata. The contrast provided a wonderful demonstration of this outstanding musician’s breadth of range. Her performance brilliantly focused on the formidable unity that underpins this extraordinarily diverse work. Drama and logic were served with equal conviction, and there was a telling yet never harsh glint of steel in her tone at the music’s most rhetorical moments.
She was just as persuasively in the vein for the final work on the official program, Bartók’s 1915 set of Romanian Folk Dances. Two encores followed: Sgambati’s arrangement of the gently graceful Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, and, by way of heroic contrast, one of Chopin’s most extrovert preludes, which was set forth with magisterial strength of tone and unfailing clarity of texture.