Grimaud Plays Strauss and Schumann

Schuman Piano Concerto; Strauss Burleske

Hélène Grimaud, piano; Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, David Zinman, conductor

Erato CD “The Erato Story” series

The Burleske for solo piano and orchestra has felled more than one pianist. Strauss had quite a challenging time finding a pianist to premiere it. It is a gloriously thrilling finger-buster, though; one can readily see why pianists persist in programming it. Earlier this year, I heard Emmanuel Ax play it with the Nashville Symphony. It was a brilliant and exciting performance. When I got this CD, I wondered if it could measure up to the high standard set by Ax.

In this reissue of a 1995 disc on the Erato label, part of a series called “The Erato Story” that celebrates the label’s history, Hélène Grimaud appears with the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, conducted by David Zinman. Grimaud avoids the temptation – and trap – of playing the Burleske like a barnstormer. She is fleet-fingered, her fast passages taking on a delightfully mercurial quality. Where power is required, it is there, but more often the pianist makes us feel like there is easiness to passages that are anything but. Grimaud’s Schumann is surefooted as well, with energetic playing, supple phrasing, and myriad dynamic hues. Zinman leads an enthusiastic-sounding ensemble with great assuredness, letting them soar when called upon to do so but never at the expense of overwhelming Grimaud’s playing.

Happy 90th Birthday Pierre Boulez

Composer and conductor Pierre Boulez turns ninety today. This year will see a number of celebrations of his nonagenarian status. Two boxed sets by recording labels with which he has long been associated up the ante for audiophiles.

Pierre Boulez – 20th Century (DG 0289 479 4261 0) is a 44 CD boxed CD featuring Boulez conducting a panoply of music by 20/21 composers: Bartók, Berg, Birtwistle, Debussy, Ligeti, Messiaen, Ravel, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Szymanowski, Varèse, Webern, and Boulez himself. Handsomely yet snugly packaged, it will fit well on the shelf of any enthusiast of modern music. The set was released in February as a limited edition.

March 31st sees the release of Pierre Boulez: The Complete Erato Recordings (Erato 0825646190485), a 14 CD collection. It includes recordings by Xenakis, Donatoni, Grisey, Dufourt, Ferneyhough, Harvey, Höller, and others. These more recent compositions make the boxed set an excellent and complementary companion to the DG set.

Is the prospect of nearly sixty CDs a bit too daunting a starter kit or refresher course? Then perhaps you might prefer Harmonia Mundi’s flash sale. Over at HM’s USA site, you can pick up the Wergo recording of Boulez’s early but essential Structures (WER 6011).

However you choose to celebrate Boulez’s birthday, do celebrate. The contributions he has made to 20/21 concert music can scarcely be measured – even on 57 CDs!