MUSIC / Off the main roads: Adrian Jack on concerts by Helene Grimaud and Bryn Terfel
Friday 13 May 1994
Some performances of Op 109 achieve in the outer movements a sense of serene balance. Grimaud took a less simple approach and filled them out almost in orchestral terms, charging them with dramatic intensity. She allowed her hands a good deal of independence - a striking feature throughout the evening was the way her left hand would linger behind the right to allow a phrase to expand.
She devoted the rest of the recital to three complete sets of short pieces which Brahms wrote towards the end of his life - Op 116, 117 and 118. Miniatures they may be in terms of mere clock time, but there's nothing small about them, and they offer immense scope for characterisation. Grimaud came up with one or two surprises: she played the delicate B flat minor Intermezzo of Op 117 quite boldly and also rather fast, as if to push aside any hint of preciousness. She also gave the mysterious piece that follows it a bumpy ride, ignoring its sotto voce marking at first, although she showed she could do it beautifully later on. Then she stripped the G minor Ballade, Op 118, of all its rhythmic muscle by speeding and over-pedalling at the same time.
But it would take much longer to describe all the good things she did. She could be tempestuous, as in the D minor Capriccio, Op 116, and the A minor Intermezzo which opens the Op 118 set; she could create a sense of expansive ease, as in the E flat Intermezzo, Op 117; and she could be most loving and tender, as in the A major Intermezzo, Op 118.
Few pianists would have shaped so many details with such affectionate understanding or revealed so many varied colours. She repeated one of the stormy pieces as an encore, but the final E flat minor Intermezzo of Op 118 was the one which lingered in the memory - a slow, winding cry of lonely pain.
Bryn Terfel is an amiable giant with a magnificently ringing bass- baritone voice. He ended his London recital debut at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday with four full- blooded romantic songs by Meirion Williams, sung in Welsh. It's hard to resist a singer who declares 'I enjoyed that one]' after a rugged ditty in praise of his own kind.
He's not, perhaps, the ideal solitary romantic of so much German Lieder, yet six songs from Schubert's Schwanengesang were all vivid - he was rapt in 'Ihr Bild', artful in 'Das Fischermadchen', which he prefaced with a mischievous smile, and in 'Der Doppelganger' he created a chilling, statuesque vision of horror. As one of his encores, he made a most devastating drama out of 'Erlkonig', thinning his voice into a tone of lubricious wheedling for the lines of the sinister seducer. He was ideally warm and robust in Vaughan Williams's Songs of Travel, although, it might be argued, he pushed 'Whither must I wander?' towards the sentimental and played up unduly to his audience in the final song, with a knowing look when he came to the words, 'Fair the fall of songs when the singer sings them'.
But he also gave much credit to his pianist, Malcolm Martineau, and showed in three songs by Faure - 'Automne', 'Le secret' and 'Fleur jetee' - that he could scale down his histrionic gift and yield to the music's subtlety with a lighter, more grainy vocal quality. A real star.
Bryn Terfel's recital was given in association with Midland Bank, Wales
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