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Ch’io mi scordi di te? Grimaud does Wolfgang.

The Adagio from the Piano Concerto in A major K. 488 is one of Mozart’s most magically inspired movements and for Hélène Grimaud it is possibly the most sublime movement that he ever wrote for the keyboard: “Even if this movement were all we had, that would be enough.” It must remain an open question whether Mozart regarded the key of F sharp minor – an extremely unusual one for him – in the same way as his contemporary Daniel Schubart, who defined it as “a dark key that tears at passion as a vicious dog tears at your clothing”. But even if there is no doubt that Mozart was repeatedly inclined to conceal his true feelings behind a mask, Hélène Grimaud is convinced that he did not do so here in this profound, inward and heartfelt movement.
Perhaps this explains why she allows herself so much time in this unique Adagio, which she plays more slowly than almost all of her other colleagues, even though she insists that she chose this tempo on the basis of her experience in the concert hall. “It happened to be so in that concert, with that acoustic. The return of the sound is what dictates when you play the next note; tempi are always connected with the venue. That said, a movement like this isn’t composed accidentally. Philosophically speaking, if you don’t go to the limit in this movement, when are you going to?” This does not alter the fact that she has an entirely clear and down-to-earth idea of Mozart. Concepts such as otherworldly, angelic music are highly suspect in her eyes: “Mozart was possessed. This idea that the music is from another world, from above, and that it’s the music of an angel is simply not the case. It’s very much the music of a man. If you read his letters, you don’t have to look very far to figure out what Mozart was about. This element of passion which gives sense to our existence is always there with him.”

In Hélène Grimaud’s view, Mozart may sometimes play with masks, but not in movements such as the Adagio from the A major Piano Concerto. Rather she identifies this mask-wearing Mozart in other passages that seem cheerful and relatively carefree: “I often feel that this effervescent, supposedly happy expression is sometimes bordering on hysteria, there’s something slightly unstable there.” She hears moments like these in the outer movements of the A major Concerto and in the finale of the F major Concerto K. 459. True, this movement is “very virtuosic, alive and effervescent. But this manic energy is almost an escape into a trance: it is not only joy, it is not only happiness.”
​What makes Mozart’s music so special for Hélène Grimaud is its grace and utter weightlessness: “You have depth but without any sort of weight. That’s really what sets him apart from many others.” But this is precisely why it is not easy to strike the right note with Mozart. You have to play this music as you would in your childhood, when you could approach it in an altogether straightforward and self-evident way and everything flowed quite naturally: “It’s challenging to get back to this purity of expression.” The second movement of the F major Concerto is a fine example of this: “It is so disarming in its simplicity, but it has a couple of moments which are just arresting; for example, when it goes into the minor tonality it is absolutely breathtaking.”
​Hélène Grimaud is always receptive to the unusual, and it was, of course, her idea to complement the two piano concertos from her Munich concert not with a third concerto but with Ch’io mi scordi di te? – Non temer, amato bene K. 505. This is a work that she has loved for many years: “It’s a gem, a wonderful piece. The part for soprano is just fantastic, the relationship between the soprano, the orchestra and the piano is just gorgeous. It’s like liquid gold, the piano’s interventions going from something to do with silk to something to do with lace. Again, there’s this wonderful weightlessness.”
​There is no doubt that this is one of the most beautiful arias that Mozart ever wrote. The way he sets up a relationship between voice and piano and allows each to react to the other is unique in the whole of his output. One is almost tempted to hear in it a secret declaration of his love for Nancy Storace, his first Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and the singer for whom he wrote this scena and rondo. He himself played the keyboard at the first performance in 1787.

The aria is marked Rondo, a form that was fashionable at the time in vocal composition. The beginning Andante segment is actually in ternary form and is introduced by the orchestra. The central, contrasting section begins at “Tu sospiri?” and modulates to the dominant. After the return of the soprano’s opening lines, Mozart prepares for the shift to the faster, second part of the aria in an unusual and imaginative way. Virtually unaccompanied outbursts from the soprano (“sempre il cuorsaria,” “Stella barbare,” and “stella spietate!”) alternate with rapid flourishes on the piano, creating an atmosphere of expectancy that allows for the most startling change in rhythm. The ensuing Allegretto is a serial rondo (ABACADA Coda). In the coda, Mozart produces the opposite of the effect he achieved in the transition when sixteenth-note scale passages in the soprano slow to eighth and then to half notes.