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The French pianist Hélène Grimaud has given ecologically-minded recitals of a group of water-themed piano works along with Brahms’ Second Sonata. Minus the Brahms, she also participated in a staged collaboration in 2014 with a Scottish Turner Prize-winning artist described by critic Brian Sewell as ‘the utterly tedious Douglas Gordon’. For this CD without visuals, the UK electronic composer and DJ Nitin Sawhney has created a series of inoffensive New Age blips as interlude material. It’s all a very Gallic culinary mix, where during overstuffed restaurant meals, innocuous sorbets are offered as palate cleansers between courses. This trivialises Sawhney’s work and discourages programmatic continuities/contrasts that provide a major appeal of recital programmes.

Piano lovers will appreciate Grimaud’s warmly theatrical version of Liszt’s ‘Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este’. Luciano Berio’s Wasserklavier is pleasantly pensive and Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II convincingly crystalline, but Fauré’s Barcarolle No 5 in F-sharp minor is steely, over-emphatic and nervy. Ravel’s Jeux d’eau is weighed down by harsh muscular stress. Albéniz’s ‘Almería’ receives a plausibly rugged, fractal-like rendition, even if more polish and refinement are traditional. Janáček’s In the Mists sounds pedantic and, at times, absent, while Debussy’s ‘La cathédrale engloutie’is exaggeratedly detached and remote.

Grimaud preaches solemnly in a booklet note: ‘We are water. The majority of our bodies, like the surface of our planet, is constituted of water’. One wonders jestingly if a future piano CD programme may focus on the equally worthy theme of UN World Toilet Day, ‘about the 2.4 billion people who lack access to improved sanitation’.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Piano International, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing