Carlo Grante takes the stage in London with Bösendorfer
The great pianist Alfred Cortot said of the Chopin Etudes that “they are as inaccessible to the technician without poetry as they are to the poet without technique.” The same could apply equally to all of Chopin’s works. Carlo Grante possesses both technique and poetry in formidable degrees. His daunting program consisted of two giant blocks of the repertoire, the four Ballades and the four Scherzi of Chopin. These works are so well-known that their themes have become part of the musical subconscious, so to speak. They are also routinely massacred by well-meaning pianists, both professional and amateur.
From the opening stark low C of the first Ballade, the audience sensed it was in the presence of total mastery and a personal vision for each phrase and each work as a whole. Color variety was abundant, reflecting the deep and dramatic emotional shifts that frequently turn from brooding to exultant in these lyrical narratives. At times, a daring and personal sense of rubato was applied, but always with a structural view, never distorting the total architecture. He didn’t play these works “the way you’ve always heard them,” thank goodness. After all, if you can’t be individual in works from the Romantic period, you are in the wrong business.
In his detailed and very intelligent program notes, Mr. Grante discusses the layers of accretion that have gathered on these works, and how a newer analytical sense has slowly gained ground, leading to more interpretive choices and greater coherence. I agree with his remarks, and also with his interpretations, and they are just that: interpretations. How refreshing to find such individuality combined with faithful adherence to the score. All this sounds very dry and technical—the result was anything but. Some ladies seated near me were grumbling that he didn’t “sing” enough (meaning ‘bring out the right hand’), the way they had been taught ages ago by their teachers, prior to their giving up lessons. I resisted the temptation to lecture them; to say that he was indeed singing all the principal lines.