Review: Brahms's Second Piano Concerto with Hélène Grimaud

Thanks to the blessing of rush tickets, last week I was able to experience my favorite pianist in person: the lovely and incomparable Hélène Grimaud. Every few years, a concert captivates everything inside of you. I remember attending a Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 with my sister that was like that.

Well, the BSO's current presentation of Brahms's Second Piano Concerto does it again. This is a piece of music that will go all through you. If you give it a chance, it will accompany you through life.

The inner movements are the most piercing. Brahms innovates by inserting a scherzo into the usual three-movement concerto schema. This Allegro is impassioned indeed. Grimaud makes it utterly riveting. She is all poetry and power. By her modesty and mastery, she electrifies the orchestra's playing. With her grace as the center of attention, the joys of paradise are approached during this movement. But only approached, for this is Brahms and Brahms means the simultaneity of majesty and loss. That old bachelor was no dead man. The scherzo is all tension--sexual, existential, what have you, done up in loping Schumannesque grandeur. And all that tension primes one for the only relief there is, in the following Andante movement: tears. It's the reprise of the cello solo (exquisitely played by Martha Babcock) that got me, but it is Grimaud's gravitational force that makes the visceral response possible.

One hears in this slow movement the quintessential Brahms: the one who sings all the promise of life--and how it never turns out.

Life is hard, but God gave us Brahms--and Grimaud.