CD Review: Water/ Hélène Grimaud


Pianist Hélène Grimaud’s recent recording Water, is an intensely pleasurable album which, at one level is a purely visceral experience which beckons you to immerse yourself in its calm and cooling waters, emerging cleansed and refreshed.

At another level, it serves as an elegant reminder of the fragility of our environment and the preciousness of water as an essential resource. Ironically, this week, news broke that Sydney had experienced its longest hot spell ever as temperatures rose above 26 degrees Celsius for 36 days in a row.

For this release on Deutsche Grammophon, Grimaud has collaborated with the eclectic British-Indian composer, performer and producer, Nitin Sawhney. Eight water themed piano compositions – Berio’s Wasserklavier , Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II, Fauré’s Barcarolle No.5, Ravel’s Jeux d’eau, Almería from Albéniz’s Iberia, Liszt’s Les Jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este, the first movement of Janáček’s In the Mists and Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie – are linked by seven distinctive bridging pieces, Transitions, written, performed on the keyboards and guitar, recorded and produced by Sawhney.

By selecting mostly 20th/21st century composers, Grimaud has eschewed romantic excess. Her playing is brilliant, simple and minimalist, allowing the colours and shimmering elemental effects of the many moods of water to emerge.

Appealing at a conceptual level as well, this is more than a collection of ambient music. The barely- there silences between the tracks, the well-considered sequence of works and Sawhney’s bridges create a soundscape that seems to be one continuous statement – or stream – than fifteen separate works.

The project embraces Grimaud’s twin passions of music and nature. She aims to entertain but also aims to “represent Nature…to interpret it and to stimulate change.” The inclusion of  aesthetics from diverse cultures, Takemitsu to Albeniz, Berio to Debussy and Sawhney’s own cameos underscore the global nature of Grimaud’s message.

Although Grimaud has observed that the message of the album is that it be experienced as a “journey from beginning to end, with that overarching structure and line running through,” she acknowledges the beauty of each track as a standalone piece and there will no doubt be listeners who may download individual tracks in isolation of her broader theme.

The disc was recorded live at the Wade Thompson Drill Hall at New York’s Park Avenue Armory in December 2014 during a collaboration between Grimaud and Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon. Their installation tears become… streams become… blended art, music and architecture centred on Grimaud’s water-themed programme. As Grimaud played, Gordon slowly flooded the vast floor of the Drill Hall to create the impression of what he described as an endless “field of water,” surrounding the grand piano on which Grimaud performed. The recording was then transformed into the album with Sawhney’s Transitions.

The CD booklet contains vivid images by Mat Henneck, images of the artists and insights from Grimaud.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

Water is available on Deutsche Grammophon 479 5268


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