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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 6 March 2017
Helene Grimaud and Brahms; what more could you want and an SHM-CD double at a giveaway price. What's not to like.
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on 27 December 2013
I had the good fortune to see Helene Grimaud live at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh earlier this year playing Beethoven's "Emperor" Piano Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. It was such an amazing performance that I was very interested to see what recordings she had done before or was about to do. When I looked on Amazon I found that she was in the process of recording both of Brahms' Piano Concertos in 2013 for DG and I knew I had to get them. I already had an old recording of them but thought it time to update them to a modern version, and who better then Helene Grimaud?

She recorded Piano Concerto No.1 in Munich with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andris Nelsons. Grimaud contributes a strong tone throughout the Concerto with good orchestral support. In the Rondo in the final movement she is in sparkling form with the Orchestra leading to a exciting climax.

The Brahms Piano Concerto No.2 was recorded by Grimaud and Nelsons in Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic and this is my favourite of the two Piano Concertos. I particularly like the second movement, which Grimaud captures perfectly with glowing sensitive playing backed by the VP and its beautiful strings. In fact of the two orchestras on these Brahms recordings I would say the Vienna Philharmonic supplies a richer, stronger backing compared to the German orchestra. But it is, of course, Miss Grimaud who shines through in both concertos and also gives a very interesting and revealing interview about Brahms in the CD booklet.
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on 31 May 2014
Two different worlds here, to my ears, both sonically and interpretively. The First Concerto, recorded in a live performance in Munich, is far too "gemutlich." It lacks tension and rhythmic spine, and it isn't until the opening of the final movement that we get a bit of the fire that is lacking earlier. Compared to, say, Szell's recording with Serkin, the recording of the orchestra seems sub-par, especially in the way the lower strings and winds are recorded -- they need to be more to the fore, and Nelsons needs to establish a much more definite rhythm to create some tension in that long first movement. It's not that it's too slow -- Barry Douglas is about the same in timing, but the rhythms are much more alive in his recording. Serkin and Szell are faster, however, and all the better for it. The orchestra as recorded is a bit homogenous in its sound, and the piano tone is a bit monochrome. Don't get me wrong -- it isn't terrible, but it is a bit ordinary.

Move to Vienna, in a different venue with a set-up that doesn't need to take account of the circumstances of live performance, and it's a different story. The piano tone has some sheen, the orchestral textures are evident, and both piano and orchestra seem more "present." Most important, the performance has much more life to it. The ebb and flow of the tension in the first movement is very well judged by both soloist and conductor, and the second movement, which starts like an Intermezzo, generates considerable drama of its own. Best of all, the shaping of the slow movement is magical, from the lovely chamber textures of the opening, through the more agitated second section, and the way Grimaud sets up the return of the cello late in the movement couldn't be bettered: it comes in like a benediction, and the close of the movement is deeply affecting. You can't fault the playing in the finale -- Nelsons and Grimaud get the grazioso just right, and there's humor in it too. It seems to me that Brahms ends the concerto with the scherzo -- and that maybe the first three movements deserve a better ending! But that's not the players' fault -- this is a really fine performance, very well recorded.
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on 11 March 2014
These are marvellous accounts of these two magnificent concertos. Grimaud has utterly undermined my sexist assumption that these concertos can only be done full justice by a man, such is the muscularity of much of the writing.
She has much of the impulsive romanticism that I so love about the Barenboim/Barbirolli recordings, but she is magisterial too when required and displays power and clarity in equal measure.
The final movement of the 1st concerto is as thrilling as i've ever heard it, and the sense of the live event is palpably captured. I was genuinely surprised therefore by how unspontaneous the audience are in registering their approval...i was expecting an eruption by the excitement Grimaud had generated through the closing pages!

Both concertos are given wonderful sound by the DG engineers, deep and sonorous without muddying Brahms' already deliciously chocolatey waters, and the piano is nicely forward in the mix, bringing its full power to bear without being unnaturally spotlit.

I would place this pairing above Nelson Friere, Nicholas Angelich and Stephen Hough among the most well thought of recent surveys of these two most rewarding titans of the piano concerto genre.
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on 30 November 2013
Should you like a dark , sonorous and flowing interpretation of The Brahms Piano concertos ,yet flashing in the dark , this is for you .
Along with the magnificent playing of Grimaud and the very superior orchestral playing conducted by Andris Nelsons ,
this is something very hard to beat . For many a year .
A great achievement by all concerned . The very best I have heard from Grimaud . Bravo !
Birgir Gudgeirsson .
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I liked Grimauld's earlier recording with Sanderling (Piano Concerto No.1, Op 15/Sanderling) and have seen her recently performing No 1 live so I was looking forward to this. I wasn't disappointed:

No 1 - A live recording but a very good one with no obvious audience noise. (I have not listened on headphones yet where audience noise is more apparent.) It has the excitement of a live performance and Grimauld is a great live performer. I think her understanding of the work has developed and this is IMO a step-up from her earlier recording. The accompliment by Nelsons with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks is excellent and very much in harmony with Grimauld. I think if you want a modern interpretation you won't go far wrong with this.

No 2 - This is a studio recording and is IMO demonstration quality. I think most would agree that this is a much more subtle piece of music and I think Grimauld understands it. This is an excellent performance by her. The Wiener Philharmoniker under Nelsons are absolutely first rate with a very lush string tone. I'm going to be playing this a lot of the next few days and weeks.

This is an easy recommendation.
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on 2 October 2013
It must be an emotional experience for a gifted, dynamic pianist to approach the heights of the piano repertoire recording Brahms with a talented young maestro and two of the best European orchestras. Helene Grimaud clearly views these concertos as life-changing works, and here we have a serious major release that asks to be the most attractive one of both concertos since Pollini and Abbado, also on DG.

Approaching the 1st Concerto, we soon realize that Grimaud boasts great magnetism. She takes this beast of a concerto with an authoritative technique that leaves no doubts about her control. Every bar has the undisputed mastery that defines the greatest pianists. But what is most striking is her imagination, which defies the common conception that this is a ponderous, rambling concerto. She grabs the ear with phrasing that weaves the most beautiful lines without ever becoming self-conscious or losing her grasp. It's hard to fathom a more perfect marriage, "invincible yet vulnerable", as she put it. Everything is majestic, yet personal to the point of being nearly painful. And the variety she displays is breathtaking, from moments of near stillness in the gorgeous slow movement to the towering force of the finale, which sounds titanic yet gloriously adventurous--has anyone bettered it? At the podium, Andris Nelsons lets Grimaud carry the show, with accompaniment that is never aggressive. He prefers gentle refinement to open drama, which sounds like a bad idea, but it is the perfect compliment to Grimaud. He shares her sensitivity, to be sure, so the Bavarian Radio Symphony never sounds stiff. He conducts with great finesse, choosing sweet lyricism that truly sounds free.

Coming to the 2nd Concerto, we get a very similar approach, only the music is more inspiring and we now have the Vienna Phil. Actually, Grimaud logically views this concerto as more intimate than its predecessor, so this reading is rich, colorful, and always reflective--very autumnal, really. A quick listen makes this reading sound low key and it almost is. There's not much barnstorming. But Grimaud uses reflection as a vehicle to exploit the most captivating emotions. She's as mesmerizing when she phrases with tenderness as when she displays her full powers. She seems to be searching for meaning, using the concerto's nobility to communicate on a level of the deepest sincerity. It's grand and soaring with freedom, yet there's an element of fragility caused by the complete emotional vulnerability. It's hard to describe how gripping she is for those who haven't heard it. Nelsons adds to this feel with conducting that is surprisingly resigned. He sounds natural and fluid, yet he rarely produces sheer excitement. Sometimes it may catch the listener off guard, especially in the 2nd movement where he breathes a quick prayer where one expects blazing triumph (the start of the new theme in D around 4:45). Some will think he goes too far in his refined ecstasy, but what might not work by itself sounds perfect with the volatile Grimaud at the keyboard. I don't hesitate to place this reading with the best from Gilels, Barenboim, and Pollini.

At the end of the day, this is Grimaud's show, and her pianism is unforgettable, transforming these indisputable masterpieces. Other pianists may be more dazzling, but few have been as poetic, much less while still maintaining such astonishing control. Bravo.
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on 3 November 2014
I have several recordings of the Brahms piano concertos, but the Grimaud reading is by far my favourite. Passionate, immediate and alert, controlled rubato, a true master work.
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on 18 November 2014
First class service and music.
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on 12 March 2015
Very good performances as others have described. A little troubled by the recording quality in no.1 - yes detail gets through the fog somehow but a relief to put on, for instance, Fleisher's recording. Grimaud takes a little more time and finds a little more feeling. I have yet to listen to no.2 but this does seem better recorded.
Later, I have compared with Fleisher and with Hough. It was a relief to hear the Fleisher recording after the murky sound of the Grimaud 1 - not entirely happy with the sound of Grimaud 2. For me there were beautiful moments but neither performance completely convinced - certainly with Grimaud the 2nd better in all respects than the 1st where the first movement felt a little slower than it actually was (perhaps the conductor was to to blame?). I concluded more heart than brain. Hough is the opposite, full of clever ideas and very refreshing to listen to once one was used to the slightly lean orchestra. Fleisher on a bigger scale and best in the second of the two concertos. If I could only have one of these recordings it would be either Fleisher or Hough, probably the latter. Maybe the next time Grimaud records these I will be convinced!
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