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Review: Hélène Grimaud, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at Birmingham Symphony Hall

Birmingham | Entertainment | Published:

Beethoven's fifth and final piano concerto 'The Emperor' has been hailed as the first symphonic concerto. Featuring celebrated French pianist Hélène Grimaud with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, The Emperor was the centrepiece of a stirring concert, performed as part of the Birmingham Beethoven Cycle.

Grimaud is reknowned as a musical risk taker, also as someone who experiences synesthesia, a condition where one of the five senses adds to another – in this case she 'sees' music as colour.

On Friday the audience almost did too as Grimaud dazzled with a kaleidoscope of sound, from the rich sweeps and dramatic runs along the keyboard of the concerto's opening movement, the gentle pulses of the Adagio and the fireworks of the famous closing Rondo.

The Beethoven performance was bookended by two pieces steeped in the richness of the Czech Philharmonic's heritage.

Under the baton of Ji?í B?lohlávek, the orchestra evoked the richness of the Czech countryside in Smetana's tone poem From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests.

Antonín Dvo?ák conducted the Czech Philharmonic in its debut performance in 1896 and so it was fitting that the concert should conclude with his dramatic Seventh Symphony.

It celebrates the strength of the Czech people at a time of political turmoil and channels the composer's internal struggles to reconcile his peaceful nature with his deeply held patriotism.

Alternating between the peaceful and the tumultuous, B?lohlávek maintained an absolute mastery of the symphony's complex rhythms as it swept towards its powerful conclusion.

By Ian Harvey

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