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Fiery Bartók

French pianist Hélène Grimaud
with the Russian National Orchestra


The Hungarian composer Bela Bartók (1881-1945) possessed one of the most distinctive creative voices of the twentieth century. He assimilated folkloric elements into his compositional technique but produced a series of landmark scores that defined 'modernism' in music. After settling in the United States in 1940, his final years were marked by poverty and ill health, yet he continued to compose and produced some of his most challenging works. His Piano Concerto No 3 Sz 119 was completed by Bartók's pupil Tibor Serly. (Serly was himself a gifted composer and perhaps the most eloquent conductor of Bartók's orchestral scores.) The concerto's première (in 1946) was performed by two legendary Hungarian artists -- pianist Gyorgy Sandor and conductor Eugene Ormandy. It would be hard to imagine a more dynamic, deeply probing interpretation of this complex score than the French pianist Hélène Grimaud offered in concert with the Moscow-based Russian National Orchestra under Alexander Vedernikov on 27 January 2004 at the Gleason Theater in Miami Beach, Florida, USA, presented by the Concert Association of Florida.

From the very first chords it was obvious that the glamorous Ms Grimaud displayed a unique mastery of this difficult work. By the end of his life Bartók had refined his musical language into a subtle study of instrumental technique. Grimaud took Bartók's sprawling musical paragraphs and brought a riveting, almost magisterial eloquence to the concerto. The work's heart lies in the central Adagio religioso-Poco piu mosso-Tempo 1 -- a 'night music' that is both contemplative and disturbing. Grimaud's ability to evoke both sensitive tonal shadings and clangorous dissonance made this movement an overwhelming experience. Her technique is brilliant and commanding. She imbued this nightmarish movement with an almost frightening intensity. In the opening Allegretto Grimaud produced pearls of pianistic brilliance at a rhythmically daunting tempo. In the concluding Allegro vivace her burning inner fire turned rolling octaves into musical thunderbolts. At the concerto's conclusion Grimaud's unrelenting intensity was bracing -- a supercharged performance! Hélène Grimaud is a pianistic dynamo. She brought absolute mastery and compelling musical adventurousness to one of the most difficult works in the repertoire.

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Copyright © 29 January 2004 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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