French pianist Hélène Grimaud is a risk-taker and a concept-maker, creating albums that pull from different styles and eras, and push into place new understandings, new beginnings even – here, with The Messenger she seeks to compare and contrast Mozart with the contemporary classical composer Valentyn Silvestrov.
I’ll never be a snob – I just like what I like – and I’m not classical music sage – I just like know what I know – so you might read elsewhere that there are awkward transitions, too much intensity or a lack of respect. Fuck that. I play this album and I am all at once in love with the sound and skill, as well as hearing Mozart in a new way, and being introduced to some pieces by Silestrov. That’s enough for me. I love this album all for that.
But I also love it for the way that these pieces – composed hundreds of years apart – are now talking to one another. And Grimaud is not The Messenger, she is the conduit. The message is what she delivers and the result then is The Messenger.
She takes dark and dramatic pieces (Mozart’s Fantasia) and adds further shade and even more drama. Her solo playing is, to my ear, flawless and exquisite. When teamed with Camerata Salzburg, the Austrian chamber ensemble from the city of Mozart’s birth, there is some real fire here.
The three movements of Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor are played with aplomb – the strings really flourish across the second movement (Romance) and sit nicely in behind during the concluding Rondo Allegro assai.
The title track is the first piece of Silestrov for this album – a hinge. The orchestra is gentle in mood setting, mournful and elegiac. Grimaud all but buries the piano down into the piece, less a soloist, now just a part of the orchestra’s sound. But this is just one version of the piece. Almost a false alarm. We will receive The Messenger again to close the album – and this time for solo piano.
The shorter pieces by Silvestrov, Two Dialogues, are lovely, filmic works. Grimaud’s playing is tender here, there’s masterful use of space, stretching the lines by allowing her musical conversation with the strings to develop with time across the three separate pieces.
And then the closing soli rendition of The Messenger – we hear this work anew. It’s beautiful. We have come full circle, almost, a mirror held up to Fantasia No. 3 in D Minor’s opening track on this same album. What’s a few hundred years between piano friends? Grimaud is the pen-pal connector – linking two composers together through her vision and versions.
But I’m also just stunned by this as a series of performances. I listen to this for the tranquility and mastery of the piano. For the subtle use of chamber orchestra in support. And for the emotions conjured from both the composers and the performers. Beautiful.