2011.01.23 - Hélène Grimaud @ Koerner Hall

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25 Ene 2011, 1:57

Sun 23 Jan – Hélène Grimaud

You kind of forget, going to shows in grubby pubs with horrifying bathroom stalls, that there are concert halls out there with custom-designed acoustic baffles, lighting that isn't always blue and red, and maybe even chi-chi washbasins with soap dispensers that get refilled once in a while. Get your sister to buy you a ticket for Christmas and you, too, can spend an afternoon in one. (Thanks, sis!)

That's what I did yesterday, trekking downtown to see the world's most expensive piano recital. It didn't start out all that auspiciously — the usual thank-the-sponsors bit got sidetracked by snobby, self-congratulatory "Art is so much more important than *shudder* football!" talk — but once the talking head gave way to an actual performer, things got much better. For one thing, she had really shiny buckles on her shoes, and who doesn't like buckles?

Being one of the least-qualified people alive to comment on classical performances, I'm sure there were countless subtleties to the program that were completely lost on me. It was pretty much impossible, however, to miss just how much Hélène Grimaud laid into the piano at times, or how well the hall's acoustics carried her laboured breathing at least as far as the fifth row. She's had her health issues over the years, but this mostly came across as seriously intense playing. Liszt's half-hour "Piano Concerto in B minor" didn't entirely overwhelm my teeny attention span, which is a feat all by itself, but it was the way she blazed through the Bartók that really grabbed me (by the throat). After the requisite walking off and back on to the stage to rapturous applause — a conceit of the artsy world that's even worse than rock-band encores — she barely acknowledged the presence of the audience before laying the smack down on the keyboard. I don't know how danceable those Romanian folk dances were as a result, but they were palpable, physical things and it felt like the last notes should have been pounded out with a fist. And that, folks, is the sort of playing that justifies a seventy-dollar ticket price.

Oddly enough, I'm listening to her latest CD (which is all the same material as yesterday's program) right now, but where a lot of it is fairly bright in the high end, the Steinway on stage didn't travel nearly as well as Grimaud's rasping. I don't know if that was the fault of the room or the instrument — there was someone out on stage during the intermission prodding at it and checking the tuning — but the possible technical issues just make it that much clearer what a powerful performance we got. Seriously, sister o' mine, many thanks.
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