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Splendid Bach Recording from Helene Grimaud
on 2 March 2009
Distinguished pianist Helene Grimaud has finally come around to recording Bach, and, for many, it is definitely a moment that was well worth waiting for. Her interpretations of Bach will not please everyone, especially those who are more comfortable with expressive recordings from the likes of Glenn Gould - whom she does admire greatly - and Simone Dinnerstein. While she professes little interest in period instrument practice, her latest recording features performances that are remarkably limited with respect to her usually expressive qualities, since she treats the modern piano keyboard much in the same manner as she would with the harpsichord, respecting Bach's original intentions by not exploiting the piano's considerably richer sonic qualities. Admittedly for some, this means that hers is a rather routine, quite dull, recording of Bach's keyboard works - including several transcriptions from other instruments - made by such noteworthy successors as Liszt, Busoni and Rachmaninov - but I respectfully disagree. There is much to be quite passionate about in Grimaud's recordings, especially in her delicate performances of selected preludes and fugues from The Well-Tempered Klavier. Indeed, as she, herself notes, in the album's liner notes, there is no right way to perform Bach, except when it is performed in a "...tradition of emotional and intellectual honesty, with the right balance between thought and intuition, between the notes on the page and the pulse of the heart."
Virtually all of the pieces were recorded in August 2008 in a Berlin recording studio. These include not only selected pieces from The Well-Tempered Klavier (No.2 in C minor, No. 4 in C sharp minor (Book 1), No. 6 in D minor, No. 20 in A minor, No. 9 in E major (Book 2), but also Busoni's transcription of the Chaconne in D minor (arranged from Violin Partita no. 2, BWV 1004), Liszt's transcription of the Prelude and Fugue in A minor (arranged from BWV 543 for organ), and Rachmaninov's transcription of the Prelude in E major (arranged from Violin Partita no. 3, BWV 1006). Her interest in performing these transcriptions was to determine how well these latter-day composers conveyed Bach's original musical thought, and, judging from her performances, they most certainly succeeded. Directing from the keyboard, Grimaud leads the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in a spirited, most vibrant, performance of the Bach Concerto for Piano No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052; itself a transcription of a concerto written originally for the violin, then transcribed by Bach, first for the organ, and then, the piano. Without question this is yet another fine recording from Grimaud, certain to win further admiration from her most devout fans and other admirers.