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Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, November 2011

Illuminating in a very different way is Hélène Grimaud’s probing performance of Ravel’s G-Major Concerto, a performance that similarly heightens the music’s underlying rifts, and serves, more effectively than you would have thought possible, as a transition between Vladimir Jurowski’s impressive readings of Strauss’s Metamorphosen and Bourgeois Gentilhomme.

Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, July 2011

On paper, this program—which opens with Metamorphosen, continues with the concerto and, presumably after the intermission, finishes up with Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme—seems oddly structured. Isn’t the move from Strauss at his deepest and most somber to Ravel at his most sparkly too great a jolt? In practice, though, the concerto makes an unexpectedly effective transition between the aged Strauss’s elegy and the younger and more optimistic Strauss’s Molièrian jeu d’espirt. For Hélène Grimaud, who has turned into one of our most provocative 40-something pianists, gives us a troubled and troubling reading that defuses the concerto’s wit and instead plays up its connections to the left-hand sibling so often treated as its opposite.

Thus, the fairly slow account of the first movement may be superficially “romantic.” But even with the flexible tempos, the music never turns slushy or sentimental; the colors are dark, the mood exploratory and questioning. The toccata passages, so often whimsical, here barely disguise an underlying sense of threat. The second movement is, if anything, further outside the mainstream: Hard where so many performances are luxurious, pained and intense where so many aim for calm, this is a reading that, without exaggerating, brings out the music’s underlying conflicts. The famous English horn solo doesn’t float over the piano’s musings so much as suggest an entirely different world, with a consequent sense of eerie dislocation. The finale is marked by relentlessness rather than joie de vivre; rarely has this music sounded less like easy listening. Hardly a first choice for someone seeking conventional wisdom about this piece, but strongly recommended for the adventurous.

The orchestral playing on the Ravel is a bit thick—balances are not always ideal (even the trombone at the beginning of the finale is too recessed) and ensemble is not always precise. Odd, given how artfully Vladimir Jurowski judges the even more difficult balances of Metamorphosen, which gets a glowing performance, on the quickish side, with a superb sense of pacing that offers tremendous sweep—if not quite the pain offered by such conductors as Klemperer. The airy account of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is almost as impressive. Yes, there’s a touch of sluggishness toward the beginning of the dinner scene, but other than that, it’s a witty performance notable for the clarity of its textures, the imagination of its tempo bending (try, in particular, the prelude to act II), the definition of its colors (especially on the tangy woodwinds), and the infectiousness of its dance rhythms. The solo work is superb throughout, but especially effective in the more raucous moments of the dinner.

Although there are plenty of good shots of Grimaud—both her face and her fingers—the camerawork in general tends to be too consistently close up, with a slightly claustrophobic effect. The image quality and the sound, though, are first-rate. Warmly recommended.

Gramophone, March 2011

Presented in 1080i video and a choice of stereo PCM or 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio, this is an intimate, no-frills record of the two pieces featured. The camerawork is unfussy to the point of being almost sedate in the Strauss and the video, while lacking the ultimate “bite” of 1080p, looks impressive even on a very large screen.

When the sound stage and camerawork open up for the Ravel, it’s in contrast to the slow, contemplative cinematography of the opening work. But the sound remains excellent, enduring this disc is as rewarding a listen as it is well worth a watch

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, February 2011

William Hedley has already welcomed this disc in its earlier DVD incarnation (3078738)—see review. I should say at the outset that I’m pretty much in agreement with what he says, so, if you don’t want to read the rest of this review, you can go out and buy it in one format or the other with confidence. I haven’t seen or heard the DVD, but I think you may safely assume that if you have a Blu-ray player the quality of the picture and sound will justify the extra outlay.

This is a recording of a concert which took place at the Cité de la Musique in Paris in January 2009. You’ll get some idea of the quality of the central work, the Ravel Piano Concerto in a nine-minute excerpt on YouTube here: it won’t, of course, match the quality of the DVD or Blu-ray picture and sound, but you will probably agree with the comments posted there—entirely favourable, apart from one illiterate contribution referring to ‘Mrs Grimaud’.

The concert opens with Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen. As W.H. writes, it’s one of the most grief-stricken pieces of music of all time, inspired by the composer’s despair at events such as the destruction of Dresden and, presumably, an element of regret that he had, however passively, seemed to support the Nazi régime which had led to the downfall of his country. Much as I admire Vladimir Jurowski’s direction here, it’s still to one or other of Herbert von Karajan’s recordings that I turn for the full impact of the music: Karajan, too, had to an extent seemed to be involved with the ethos which had led to the downfall of Germany and Austria. (DG Originals 447 4222, with Tod und Verklärung and Four Last Songs. The later digital version seems to be currently unavailable, except as a download from Passionato.) The title Metamorphosen, however, contains within itself a hint of hope for an altered or metamorphosed future, and the performance here emphasises the lyrical quality of Strauss’s grief.

Hélène Grimaud is no stranger to the Ravel Concerto: her Baltimore recording with David Zinman remains available as part of a 2-CD Warner collection (2564691489) and a 6-CD set (2564632652) both at budget price.

Her earlier performances, however, have not been to all tastes: Bob Briggs thought that she failed to engage with the work’s emotional heart at the 2010 Proms, where she was accompanied by the Sydney Symphony and Vladimir Askenazy— see review. Nor was Christopher Howell wholly appreciative of her recording of the work which appeared in a Brilliant Classics box, though he admitted that it was illogical of him to resent her left-before-right-hand playing when his hero Michelangeli does the same thing. And, I think, Ravel would have expected the soloist to do so, as that was the general practice. That very inexpensive recording with the RPO and Jesús Lopez-Cobos remains available on Brilliant Classics (92437, 5 CDs—see review).

Like W.H. and the vast majority of those making comments on YouTube, I agree that Grimaud and Jurowski do get to the heart of the music on the new DVD/Blu-ray recording. Once again, however, it’s to an audio version that I shall mainly turn in future—the recently-released recording on Chandos which I made Joint Download of the Month in my January 2011 Download Roundup. (CHSA5084/CHAN5084, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Yan Pascal Tortelier—see review).

We return to Richard Strauss for the final work, though one which reveals a very different aspect of his music. Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is the kind of 20th-century-meets-17th confection that I love. Like Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances and Beecham’s Handel-based concoctions, Love in Bath and The Great Elopement, it’s hugely enjoyable. Like them, too, for all the employment of earlier music it couldn’t have been written before the 20th century—or, in this case, by any other than Strauss, many of whose trade-marks it bears.

The Euroarts picture quality is excellent, though there’s a degree of shimmer on the rear wall that’s common on DVD but which Blu-ray usually cleans up. The sound is very good, even played via television speakers. Heard over an audio system it’s warm and credible, with an emphasis on spread of sound rather than pinpoint stereo placement, especially if played audio-only, without the helpful visual cues on individual instruments. If, like me, you may well find yourself playing the recording audio-only, my CD recommendations may be more to the point, when the DVD costs around £25 and the Blu-ray £30. Blu-ray is an excellent sound-carrier—superior to DVD…

Well worth having, then, whether it’s one or both of the Strauss works or the Ravel which appeals, but if you don’t mind audio-only alternatives, you may well choose to forego the visuals.

Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, November 2010

Composer Vladimir Jurowski with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe delivers some solid performances of Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Opus 60, was well as Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, Opus 83 with ace pianist Helene Grimaud joining him throughout in this new Strauss/Ravel concert Blu-ray that is every bit as well shot and recorded as the Mahler/Abbado series. It would be nice to see this become a series too, but we’ll see. Very impressive and the kind of Blu-ray that can spark interest in the arts.

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4:52:35 PM, 4 September 2015
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