When it comes to capturing music’s essence in words, the Missouri-born poet Langston Hughes offers a credible definition, albeit by referring to dreams rather than to dots on the stave
“Hold fast to dreams,” he writes
“For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
I can’t think that many composers would baulk at the idea that their music is dream-inducing, that we can profitably hold fast to those dreams while listening, keeping them alive, and a new cd by that most charismatic of pianists Hélène Grimaud gently coaxes us to the edge of creative sleep with Valentin Silvestrov’s haunting The Messenger for string orchestra and piano of 1996, Mozartean motives heard from afar with subtly applied sound effects, warming and mysterious and that might easily force you to slow down even if you don’t want to. Pieces based on Schubert and Wagner, as well as a solo piano version of The Messenger, compound the effect which had already set in with a fascinating presentation of pure Mozart, starting with the variously shaded Fantasia in D minor which Grimaud has morph ingeniously into the D minor piano concerto (No.20), though you’ll need to forgive her lopping off the Fantasia’s closing bars. No problems in my book, such is the impact of what we hear. Her approach to Mozart – at once impetuous, lyrical and vividly coloured – recalls the great Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel, often pressing forwards though, uncannily, with time on her side, or so it seems. Immediately prior to Silvestrov we hear Mozart’s C minor Fantasia, silent film music before its time (beam up from 4:28) whereas later passages of the same work anticipate Beethoven’s Appassionata. Surely Mozart never looked further into the future than he does here. This is one of the most absorbing piano programmes of recent years, principally because of the way it activates the senses, stimulates the intellect and has the imagination going into overdrive. Grimaud’s alert collaborators are Camerata Salzburg.
The Messenger, music by Mozart and Silvestrov, Hélène Grimaud (piano), Camerata Salzburg DG 483 7853