Hélène Grimaud has been performing the "Emperor" quite a bit with the famous Dresden orchestra on tour recently, but with a different conductor, Fabio Luisi. Their scheduled Prague Festival performance in mid-September was aborted when Mlle Grimaud found the sustaining pedal on the proffered piano unreliable and the festival manager, rather than bring in a different piano, simply cancelled the concert and told the ticket-holders to go home. Im sorry for the Czechs who were denied the exalting pleasure of her performance. Grimaud is a pianist who insists not only on making every note count but on making every note beautiful, and she does this without holding up the powerful momentum that seems to rise directly from the score. This is an amazingly refreshing realization of a thrice-familiar work, giving majesty, elegance, brio, sentiment and exhilaration their due without letting the mechanism show. Superbly integrated partnership from the orchestra under young Vladimir Jurowski (the new principal conductor of the London Philharmonic) and stunning sound that does right by both elements.
Simone Dinnerstein has also recorded Beethoven -- with the cellist Zuill Bailey in all the works for their two instruments, on Delos -- but her sudden fame and lineup of prestigious engagements abroad are traceable to the Goldberg Variations, which she performed in her Carnegie Hall debut in November 2005. Word that she had taped this recording eight months earlier created a buzz, and the CD itself can only win more admirers for this mature artist. Only the most thorough understanding of the work could have enabled her to deliver it with the sense of spontaneity evident here. The scampering Variation 5, in fact, almost gets away from her, but overall this is a very persuasive realization, reminding us of the days when musicians old enough to drive recorded the music they had lived with, rather than learning a piece during a recording session. Miss Dinnerstein takes all repeats, brings a sense of contemplative reverie to the Aria at the beginning and end of the long sequence, and seems to have an instinctive sense of the right character for each of the 30 variations.
There are other fascinating accounts of this endlessly fascinating work, and they retain their appeal, but the appeal of this one (which benefits more than incidentally from Adam Abeshouses beautifully focused recording) is such that it renders comparisons rather beside the point. It is not so much a "contender" as simply something to be vastly savored on its own persuasive terms.
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