The Messenger: Helene Grimaud in Mozart and Silvestrov

The Messenger: Helene Grimaud in Mozart and Silvestrov

One of the most forward-thinking of musicians around today, Hélène Grimaud's releases on the Yellow Label are never less than stimulating. Think of her meditation on memory in her album of that name (which, like this new offering, included some Silvestrov).

The juxtaposition of Mozart with the music of Valentin Silvestrov (born 1937) for her latest album, The Messenger, is little short of inspired. Mozart's Fantasias in D minor and C minor bookend a performance of the D Minor Concerto. Fantasias have an air about them as if they are improvised on the spot, and Grimaud beings that sense of freshnes sto her playing. Listen to Grimaud's way with the D minor, the sense of lament at the opening carrying the weight of the World on its shoulders, the sense of expectation and unpredictability later positively breathless:

Mozart Fantasia in D minor, K 397 / 385g

The piece is unfinished (the final ten bars one sees in the score are by an unknown hand, probably August Eberhard Müller), and here its "ending" without any completion creates the first part of a cadence that is resolved by the strings at the opening of the D Minor Concerto; it works supremely well (but it does mean that if you listen through the YouTube video above, you end up frustrated, awaiting a conclusion that doesn't come ...).

The performance of the D Minor Concerto is terrific, punchy, powerful, the Camerata Salzburg under Giovanni Guzzo on pinpoint form, Grimaud superby reflective in the  cadenza (by Beethoven). One of only two concertos by Mozart in minor keys (the other is No. 24 in C minor), it offers a remarkable profundity. Recorded in January 2020, its unrest in retrospect almost seems predictive of what was to come. The slow movement, in particular, is unusually deep, the seeming innocence of its opening giving way to remarkable tumult.

Mozart PIano Concerto No. 20, Romance

Mozart's finale is full of dynamism and more of that unrest. Here, for those that like to see performance as well as hear, is DG's promotional video of that movement:

Mozart PIano Concerto No. 20, Rondo

From the decisively D minor close of the concerto, we move to the C mnor Fantasia. This is a piece often performed with the C Minor Sonata, but hearing it shorn from its presumed intended partner is highly effective. It has closer links, in fact, to the "Royal theme" from Bach's Musikalisches Opfer (once you've heard it you can't unhear it):

... and here's the Bach. I picked a version on piano to help the illustration, a fabulous disc of Bach and Frescobaldi by Konstantin Lifschitz on Orfeo (the Amazon link is below, too):

Bach Musikalisches Opfer, BWV 1079

The more academically minded reader who wishes to explore the links between the pieces in more depth will find this article of use.

"What can music mean for people today? What reference can it have in the face of fear, disease and ubiquitous misery?" Grimaud asks in the booklet. Surely, the answer is that now more than ever, we need Mozart, his heavenly purity coupled with, in these three minor key pieces, his sense of the humane, his sense of simply being human and all the pain that can entail.  

So, with the final dismissive upward scale of the C minor Fantasia, we move forwards in time to Stephan Flock's arrangement of Silvestrov's The Messenger - 1996 for string orchestra and synthesizer (or piano). Dedicated to the memory of the composer's late wife, it is a piece of heartfelt emotion that seems to present Mozart through a veil. As Grimaud herself puts it, the music "floats like a cloud":

Silvestrov: The Messenger - 1996, version with string orchestra

Silvestrov's Two Dialogues with Postscript interact with Schubert and Wagner before presenting a "Morning Serenade," an "Aubade". Silvestrov's achievement is to allow the original composers' voices to shine through a bubble of his own voice. Here's another of those eavesdropping-on-the-studio videos:

Silvestrov: Wedding Waltz (after Schubert)

Slivers of Wagner's Tristan and Parsifal flicker in the central movement before the light appears in that "Morning Serenade," a piece of the utmost beauty that cedes to the haunting solo piano version of The Messenger - 1996. I find this solo piano version even more haunting than the string orchestra one, Grimaud's sustaining pedal the workings of a magician. It is the perfect end to this remarkable disc:

Silvestrov: The Messenger - 1996 (solo piano)