Curious idea, but still compelling


Helene Grimaud, piano. Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

(Deutsche Grammophon)


Helene GRIMAUD is a pianist whom some find captivatingly original and others can’t stand. In this, her first recording for DG, she has a curious idea. Coming to terms with Beethoven’s “Choral” Fantasy -- the composer’s sort-of sketch for the Ninth Symphony, for piano, orchestra and chorus -- got her thinking, she has said in interviews, in unusual directions. It led her to John Corigliano’s “Fantasy on an Ostinato” for solo piano, which obsessively hammers away at a motif from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and to Arvo Part’s “Credo” for piano, orchestra and chorus, which veers from the piano’s gooey Bachian arpeggios to ferociously dissonant orchestral outbursts. Grimaud finds that Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata helps tie it all together. This is an odd but strangely compelling CD.

-- Mark Swed

Seasoned playing lets Haydn bloom

Haydn: String Quartets, Opus 33, No. 3; Opus 77, Nos. 1 and 2; Hoffstetter: Serenade

Alban Berg Quartet (EMI Classics)

*** 1/2

Haydn’s creative output is simply staggering -- not only the sheer number of works but also the number that are of the highest quality. These quartets are taken from the Opus 33 set, in which the composer struck out in new directions, and the later Opus 77 pair, in which he pulled back from experimentation while still providing variety and interest. The players -- violinists Gunter Pichler and Gerhard Schulz, violist Thomas Kakuska and cellist Valentin Erben -- bring a seasoned, tight ensemble to their playing. Sometimes there is a harsh, bright edge, with almost an aggressive tension to it, but these musicians know when to let up and let a phrase blossom.

-- Chris Pasles

A bodacious yet elegant talent

Ravel: Works for Piano

Alexandre Tharaud, piano

(Harmonia Mundi)

*** 1/2

Kagel: “Rrrrrrr ...,” “Ludwig van” and other works

Alexandre Tharaud, piano, and various musicians (Aeon)


Two years ago, Alexandre Tharaud released a CD of Rameau harpsichord pieces played on the piano. A delight, it revealed a scintillating, unconventional young French pianist worth watching. Now these two releases confirm that Tharaud is a rare and, to some extent bodacious, talent. In the two-CD set of Ravel’s piano music, he goes up against many great pianists, but these performances are among the best. His technique is impeccable; he gets a range of bright colors from the keyboard; he is warm and elegant.


But don’t get the impression that Theraud is that well-behaved. If he was, he would hardly have chosen to gather some of his young friends to make a CD of Mauricio Kagel’s irreverent chamber music. “Ludwig van” is the avant-garde Argentine composer’s deranged arrangements for the Beethoven bicentennial in 1970. “Rrrrrrr ...” is a wacky series of piano pieces all inspired by a word that begins with R, be it “raga,” “ragtime” or a nightingale with a cold (rossignol). In a duet for piano and metronome, “MM 51,” the infernal tick-tock forces the pianist to freak out. Theraud takes it all with aplomb.

-- M.S.