A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

The French pianist Hélène Grimaud gave a hypnotic performance on April 19 at Walt Disney Concert Hall, playing pieces by the three—actually—four Bs: Beethoven, Brahms and Bach/Busoni.

Grimaud’s concert wasn’t just a bunch of pianistic crowd-pleasers thrown together to show off her technical prowess. Hers was a carefully thought-out program that, while not programmatic, had a distinctive feel and flow to it.

Grimaud began with the Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109. The Beethoven starts and finishes with the simplest, but most heartfelt of melodies that makes one take a deep breath when it begins and ends. Grimaud’s performance was Beethoven with feeling and sensitivity. 

She finished the first half with the Three Intermezzos Op. 117, by Brahms, which followed almost naturally from the last notes of the Beethoven. Brahms’ solo piano music sometimes seems simple when compared with the piano music of, say, Chopin or Lizst; but there is complexity in that simplicity. Grimaud’s performance, however, transcended those technicalities to make the listener feel what Brahms must have felt when he composed them.

After a short intermission, Grimaud returned and continued to explore the solo piano music of Brahms with the Fantasies, Op. 116. The first one, Capriccio, Presto energico, burst from Grimaud’s slight frame and left the audience breathless at its conclusion. Immediately following the final fantasy, Capricco, Allegro agitato, much like the first one, and without pause as if they were two movements from the same piece, Grimaud launched into the Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 in D minor by Bach and arranged by Ferruccio Busoni. It was a mesmerizing and powerful performance.

Grimaud held the hall spellbound for the entire recital with nary a sound except that from the piano. Grimaud says that one goal of her concerts is to convey emotions to the listeners, and she certainly succeeded in doing that on Wednesday night. She took us along on a journey through the landscapes of her interpretations of the three Bs, and it was an immensely satisfying one.

But she wasn’t finished. She didn’t wait to be called back on stage for numerous encores before granting the audience our wish for additional music. She returned to play three encores: the Études-Tableaux, Op. 33, No. 9, Bagatelle II by Valentin Silvestrov, and the Études-Tableaux, Op. 33, No. 2 by Rachmaninoff.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

Visit www.laphil.com.