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  • Muzaffar Shah

The Pleyel Piano Returns to the Concert Stage

A photograph of the English concert pianist Daniel Grimwood seated at a grand piano
Daniel Grimwood

The rain didn’t keep a full audience away from the Lamberhurst Music Festival on 3 March 2024, when the English concert pianist Daniel Grimwood presented an excellent account of Bach's Goldberg Variations. His performance was aptly complemented by the bright, clear sound of a brand new Pleyel grand piano, chosen by the festival for this performance and provided by Grand Passion Pianos. This model of Pleyel (the P190), known for its power and nuanced tonality, became the ideal vessel for Grimwood's interpretative depth, allowing each variation to unfold with clarity and dynamism.

David Ham, the festival director, commented that he “usually hires a Fazioli or sometimes a Steinway or Bösendorfer”, but thought the, “key difference between any or all of these was the clarity which the Pleyel provided. A simple word but it leads to so much more, particularly when a very fast-moving piece like the Bach Variations is being played. A lovely clear sound which was a key element in a fine performance."

Grimwood coloured the work masterfully, from the introspective beauty of the Aria to the intricate dance rhythms and the virtuosic demands of the faster passages. Variation 5's spirited clarity, the soulful depth of Variation 25, and the triumphant intricacy of Variation 29 particularly stood out. Grimwood’s control and sensitivity, paired with the Pleyel's resonant sound, made for a deeply immersive experience, highlighting the emotional breadth and technical complexity of Bach’s masterpiece.

The evening provided a compelling case for the return of the legendary Pleyel grand piano to the concert stage. After all, Chopin and other great Romantics found their voice at the Pleyel in concert, so why should that same music not be performed at the Pleyel today? Chopin’s first and last performances in Paris were at the Pleyel grand piano at the Pleyel piano company’s concert salon.

Of the Pleyel in Grimwood’s performance, I would highlight the crisp execution of the trills in Variation 10, a spirited gigue that demands both precision and agility, qualities the Pleyel piano delivered with its bright, clear sound. Variation 15, a canon at the fifth in a minor key, was rendered with a profound depth, its reflective quality enhanced by the piano's resonant and highly legible bass. The power of the Pleyel was particularly evident in Variation 29, a virtuosic overture that requires a robust tonal range to capture its dramatic flourishes and intricate passages, showcasing Grimwood's technical prowess and emotional intensity. Of course, the star of the evening was Grimwood and his inspired performance, whilst the Pleyel provided the vector for his artistry. This performance underscored the Pleyel's ability to marry strength with sensitivity, making it an integral part of the evening's musical exploration. Notable too was the clarity of lines in the music, and in contrapuntal passages in particular.

Daniel Grimwood, known for his exceptional versatility and depth as a pianist, was an exemplary choice for Bach's Goldberg Variations. His background, rich in both the romantic repertoire and earlier music, provided him with the unique insight necessary to navigate the technical complexities and emotional nuances of this work. Grimwood's ability to bring a fresh interpretive depth to well-established pieces, coupled with his skillful touch and expressive phrasing, made him ideally suited to explore the dynamic range and tonal clarity of the Pleyel grand piano too, adding a vibrant, and somehow contemporary, layer to this timeless masterwork.

The Lamberhurst Music Festival, established in 2003, is dedicated to bringing top-quality classical performances to the Lamberhurst community while supporting St. Mary's Church financially. Ably led by the charismatic and artistically minded David Ham, the festival stages around seven concerts annually, featuring both emerging and renowned artists at accessible prices. Past highlights include an outdoor opera at Bayham Abbey and a December carol concert, drawing significant audiences and offering a sociable, engaging experience. This tradition of excellence and community engagement made it a fitting venue for Daniel Grimwood's performance, whilst St Mary’s Church seemed particularly fitting for an account of Bach’s Goldberg variations which bordered on the revelatory.

For more details on the Lamberhurst Music Festival, visit their official website at Lamberhurst Music Festival.




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