The erotics of Liszt, the decadence of Brahms: a Hélène Grimaud piano recital at Koerner Hall, Toronto, 19 April 2015

Just back from a Hélène Grimaud solo piano recital in Toronto. First half was on a “watery” theme: all alternative not-quite-so-diatonic, out-of-the-German-mainstream pieces by Berio, Takemitsu, Ravel, Fauré, Albeniz, Liszt, Janáček, and Debussy, played continuously, as a suite. Grimed is brilliant, fire and ice, with seemingly unlimited technique. The concert’s second half kind of repudiated this alternative world, with the big fat noisy Brahms 2nd Piano Sonata. Which she can make work as well as it can be made to work, but it’s hard not to notice that Brahms, even at 19 years old, is fighting a noisy, impassioned, anxious, losing battle against western art music that had already entered its decadent phase. 

The first half of the concert, though, opened alternative worlds, where Grimaud’s power and imagination released space, colours, shivers up and down the spine.

Her Liszt choice, Les Jeux d’Eau à la Villa d’Este, was extraordinary. For guys like me who don’t get to experience it directly, this is probably the closest one can get to feeling what a ten minute orgasm is like: passionate, rolling, formless, transporting, with shape, variation, seemingly infinitely extensible, somehow simultaneously specifically embodied and ecstatically incorporeal. Lucky ladies. No wonder they fainted when Liszt played for them.

[For reference:

Closest I’ve found to Grimaud’s Liszt is this Claudio Arrau performance from 1969 (but he’s more delicate, more “feminine”; she was far more physical and powerful).