Mat Hennek / DG
Pianist Hélène Grimaud built a career on the romantics, but now she turns to J.S. Bach.
Pianist Hélène Grimaud built a career on the romantics, but now she turns to J.S. Bach. Mat Hennek / DG
Sooner or later, nearly every classical pianist has to come to terms with Johann Sebastian Bach. Some warm up to Bach's music every morning. Others are obsessed with recording all of the master's keyboard works. And still others, sometimes out of reverence, wait to play Bach until their careers have matured.
French-born pianist Hélène Grimaud, at 39, is about to release her first Bach recording, simply titled Bach. Beginning Feb. 3, you can hear the entire new album on this page before its Feb. 10 release.
Grimaud is one of those pianists who start each day with Bach, but she's waited to document her playing on a recording.
"Bach's music goes straight to the very core of the human soul," Grimaud says. "Playing Bach allows you to mark your spiritual growth, as well as your technical growth as an instrumentalist."
Grimaud grew into her career playing the big romantics. Her very first recording, made when she was 15, featured Sergei Rachmaninoff's dramatic Second Sonata. Later, her albums of Chopin, Schumann and Brahms have won her awards and the praise of many critics.
But Grimaud's beloved romantics still lurk in the shadows of her new Bach CD. Along with assorted Preludes and Fugues, as well as Bach's Keyboard Concerto No. 1, Grimaud has included arrangements of Bach's works by Franz Liszt, Ferruccio Busoni, and Rachmaninoff.
"One would be mistaken in regarding Bach as no more than a man of his time bearing witness to ours, because Bach is always in the process of becoming," Grimaud says. "Even in his own lifetime, he eluded his contemporaries, who saw in him a relic of the past, not a prophet for all times and all people. What could then be more natural than to find him at the source of Liszt, Busoni or Rachmaninoff?"
Typical of her careful attention to programming, Grimaud playfully arranges the new CD by juxtaposing pieces in particular keys — a Prelude and Fugue in C minor, then one in C-sharp minor. A concerto in D minor precedes a prelude in the same key.
In E.M. Forster's novel A Room With a View, there's a line delivered about a pianist who has just played Beethoven rather boldly. It reads, "If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her."
One can say the same about Hélène Grimaud. Her passionate pursuits — wolves, literature, biology — are fuel for her adventuresome musical career, and vice-versa.