Brilliant Classics, a cheapo-cheapo label based in the Netherlands, has licensed from Denon the five recordings which launched Helene Grimaud's career, and marketed them at a price which makes them a steal. Miss Grimaud was 15 when she recorded the first of these five, the Rachmaninoff collection, in 1985, comprising his second piano sonata (in Horowitz' abridged edition) and a selection of Etude-Tableaux, plus two Preludes. She went on with Schumann (1st piano sonata in 1987, Kreisleriana in '88), Chopin (1st Ballade) and Liszt (Dante Sonata - both in '87), Brahms (second piano sonata in '88 followed by third piano sonata and Klavierstücke opus 118 in '91), and it was all topped-off, in 1992, by the concerto recordings: Ravel's G major and Rachmaninoff's 2nd, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted bu Jesus Lopez-Cobos. She then moved own to Erato, and now DG - and that was it for Denon.
So these discs span the 7 first years of her recording career, and it is not easy stuff that she tackled either. These are among the most daunting compositions of the piano repertoire, not only technically but also musically.
It would be unfair to Miss Grimaud to say that these are astounding recordings for a 15-to-22 year-old girl. These are astounding recordings, period. Throughout she displays unflinching muscularity, gripping rhythmic bite, magnificent control of the long line and the succession of variegated moods, from drama to lyricism, and admirable attention to the inside voicing and complexities of contrapuntal writing. All these recordings are not just fine visiting cards for a fledgling pianist - they are equal to the best. Brilliant as reissued the Denon discs as they were originally, short timings and all - the Rachmaninoff is 44 minutes long and the longest of the five is under the hour - but given the price and the excellence of piano playing it is still a bargain.
Miss Grimaud is now in the public's eye almost more for her infatuation with wolves than for her pianistic skills - and the Brilliant release surfs on the wave, albeit with some discretion, by the choice of its cover art. But judging from these recordings, one suspects that this kind of claptrap is almost detrimental to her cause. The wolf hype would easily lead you to think that some wise-axxed PR was trying to make up by that tacky attention-catcher for what her mere pianism was unable to achieve. Not so. Miss Grimaud's pianistic and musical gifts can amply stand on their own. Let the wolves howl, and hats off to the pianist.