CD Spotlight: The Messenger by Hèléne Grimaud with Camerata Salzberg
We're looking back in time with our CD Spotlight to highlight a release from 2020. The Messenger, with pianist Hèléne Grimaud and the Camerata Salzberg, is an unusual juxtaposition of composers, putting Mozart and Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov together. The first half offers two Mozart Fantasias and Mozart’s powerful Piano Concerto No. 20 with cadenzas by Beethoven. Although Mozart rarely wrote in the minor mode, all three pieces are in minor keys; Grimaud has said she is drawn to those darker, more insistent sonorities.
The second part is all Silvestrov, who clearly draws from Mozart, with a bit of Schubert and Wagner emerging at times. The result is a study of contrasts and connections, with the restlessness of Mozart nestling up to Silvestrov’s serenity. “I do not write new music,“ says Silvestrov. “My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists.” And, as a BBC critic says, Grimaud plays with both incisiveness and finesse.
When Hèléne Grimaud sat down in the studio to record The Messenger, COVID-19 was nothing more than an occasional story of a mysterious illness that was cropping up in China. By the time the CD was released, the world had come to a standstill twice. In the liner notes, Grimaud poses the questions: “What can music mean for people today? What relevance can it have in the face of fear, disease and ubiquitous misery?” Almost two years later, we found some answers to her questions. As audiences flocked once more to concerts in 2022, we saw that music, which had been a solace in the lockdowns, had the power to elate and to help us overcome fear.
Two years on, Russia has invaded Ukraine, and Silvestrov has fled his homeland, taking refuge in Germany. We now feel a different fear and search for a new set of answers. The Messenger, which connects these very different composers, may once again offer solace as it did when it first came out.