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Chamber music concert offers engaging but one-dimensional take on Mørk and Grimaud

Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
06/08/2004 -  
R. Schumann: Fantasiestüke for cello and piano, opus 73
J. Brahms: Sonata for cello and piano no. 1, opus 38
J. Corigliano: Fantasia on an ostinato
D. Chostakovitch: Sonata for cello and piano, opus 40

Truls Mørk, cello
Hélène Grimaud, piano

Musicians can consider themselves successful when they schedule a program of chamber music and walk on stage to the applause of an enthusiastic audience numbering 2000. Before playing a note, pianist Hélène Grimaud and cellist Truls Mørk had by virtue of their talent and public appeal drawn a sold-out crowd to the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on a hot spring evening. With their diligent (but not necessarily revolutionary) interpretations of Schumann, Brahms, Corigliano and Chostakovitch, the pair lived up to the high expectations. The understated program, however, left the audience wanting to hear both musicians in more revealing territory, such as Britten or Beethoven, a curiosity that contributed to extra bustle at the CD tables following the concert.

The evening opened with Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke for cello and piano, opus 73, whose first movement, intended by the composer to be “tender, with expression,”was less than full-bodied. Mørk, who plays on a rare Domenico Montagnana (1723), seemed stiff, and though Grimaud, on a Steinway, picked up some slack in the third movement, her dynamics throughout lacked subtlety.

Next came Sonata for cello and piano n° 1, opus 38, a work in which Brahms reserves room for an uncommonly dense piano role. With its throwbacks to Haydn, Mozart and Bach – the opening theme of the final movement is a direct quotation of the thirteenth fugue subject from “The Art of the Fugue” – this piece doesn’t leave much room for the interpreters’ own artistic imprint. Still, it served to demonstrate the pairs’ professional rapport, and Grimaud held her own with robust and expressive playing.

Grimaud opened the second half with Fantasia on an ostinato by American composer John Corigliano, a piece that replaced two Brahms rhapsodies on the original program. Grimaud was wise to include this selection rather than more Brahms, as it allowed some of her personality to show through. Chin turned skyward for the slower, more thoughtful passages, Grimaud was clearly at home with this piece, one she recorded on her most recent Deutsche Grammophon release, “Credo,” with Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The program ended with a Chostakovitch Sonata for cello and paino, opus 40 – a selection that exposed both musicians’ brilliant technique, left largely unexploited in the rest of the program. Here their concentration bordered on restraint, but the careful rendering proved that, even fully exposed in a chamber music setting, Mørk and Grimaud could deliver a strong performance.

In spite of more than two hours of music and two encores, the audience departed with a somewhat one-dimensional take on both musicians. Mørk, who has a hearty discography exclusive to Virgin and penchant for contemporary music, had moments of severity but equally frequent flashes of soulful, skilled playing. Grimaud, with a touch that was occasionally too insistent, nonetheless dazzled. Regardless of whether you’re attracted to these Romantic-era works, it is well worth tuning in to hear Mørk and Grimaud on the France Musiques rebroadcast on June 20 at 9a.m.

Alexandra Day



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