Hélène Grimaud's New CD 'Water' (Deutsche Grammophon) is Her Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy

By Thomas Swan on Feb 03, 2016 05:46 AM EST
Hélène Grimaud's New CD 'Water' (Deutsche Grammophon) is Her Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy Beautifully dark, twisted fantastic...but in the best, most ecological possible way. (Photo : Deutsche Grammophon)

In her liner notes for her new Deutsche Grammophon record Water, French-born classical pianist Helene Grimaud notes, "The theme of this album is water: as a source of life and inspiration." Ms. Grimaud goes on to discuss her uniquely holistic project--a meditation of the contrasting incarnations of water. There is a lot to ponder and consider, yes, based largely on Grimaud's stated intentions and what the sound, itself, is saying. Water is a fascinating intellectual journey. And no, it's not a CD you will ever put on just for background noise.

Active listening to this disc, then, it really seemed like an exercise in the chaotic. It is very true that Grimaud has offered up a deeply thoughtful mediation on water, but more so, to contemplate its power, relentlessness and dominance. It is unsettling and menacing.

The album starts with a drip and pushes. Its tenacity builds and builds, until there is a release. Starting off the album is a selection from Luciano Berio's fantastically modern 6 Encores: No. 3 Wasserklavier. We move into one of the seven transitions, what the press release calls "ambient transitions," composed, recorded and produced by Nitin Sawhney. Simply titled, "Water - Transition No. 1," it is a menacing piece, filled with near dangerous intent.

Meanwhile, on Toru Takemitsu's Rain Tree Sketch II, the intent is much less sinister. Grimaud's piano cascades down and drenches you, until it finally peters out. Sawhney's second transition continues its predatory stalking. Faure's Barcarolle in F-sharp minor, Op. 66 still begs the album's overall refrain: Is it about water, or control?

As you progress through this disc, you really do begin to wonder. Sawhney's "Water - Transition" has you on the run, escaping. To where, though? Ravel's lovable, yet dissonant Jeux d'eau is purposefully chaotic programming. But then, Sawhney's "Water - Transition No. 4" sounds like a new beginning, an awakening. It is the calm on the album, for sure.

Albéniz's "Almeria," from the second book of Iberia, flirts with total abandon, before it shapes back to reality, dying a slow death and giving way to a brief, fifth transition that elides nicely with a rapturous rendition of Liszt's Années de pèlerinage III, S.163. Again, Sawhney's "Water - Transition No. 6" finds us in a strange place, very sci-fi in feel. With Janáček's flat-heavy In the Mists, we lose whatever desperation is implied. Finally, care of Sawney's last transition, Debussy's 10th prelude, "La Cathédrale Engloutie," finishes softly, as if the water had run out of the tub.

An astonishing, majestic record--simultaneously provocative and unsettling--we're stalked by an uncontainable power far greater than we humans, 75% water ourselves, could ever fathom.

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TagsREVIEW, Helene Grimaud, Water, Deutsche Grammophon, Berio, Takemitsu, Ravel, Albeniz, Liszt, Janacek, Debussy, Nitin Sawhney

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