Review: Benjamin Grosvenor, Piano, Snape Proms, August 18

Concert pianist Benjamin Grosvenor

Concert pianist Benjamin Grosvenor - Credit: Archant

Since winning the Keyboard Final of the BBC Young Musician Competition in 2004 Benjamin Grosvenor has established himself both nationally and internationally as a pianist of exceptional quality – and he is only 23.

His repertoire is wide and for Tuesday’s sell out concert at the Maltings he chose two of the most innovative composers for the piano at the heart of the Romantic Movement alongside Mendelssohn and Ravel.

Mendelssohn’s Preludes and Fugues op 35 acknowledge his debt to Bach but also reflect his own character with some elegant and high spirited writing. The E minor is a sturdy and confident piece but the F minor has a more reflective prelude and a fugue that has some of the brio of the Midsummer Night’s Dream music. Grosvenor played with confidence and aplomb in an impressive opening to the concert.

Chopin understood the lyrical qualities of the piano better than anyone and his Barcarolle (the only one he wrote and the last work he ever performed in public) is a supreme example. Even if the tempo seemed a little brisk there was much to admire in the security of the rocking bass line and the controlled build-up and emergence of the big tunes. The two mazurkas op 63/2 and op 30/4 were notable for perfectly judged tempi and seamless changes of mood. In the Andante Spianato Grosvenor gave us some wonderful pianissimos, his fingers conjuring a light breeze of summer. The subsequent Grande Polonaise Brilliante, something of a showcase piece, had all the elan required and provided a suitably rousing end to the first half.

Le Tombeau de Couperin was originally conceived as a tribute to the music of the 18th Century Baroque but Ravel’s experiences as an ambulance and truck driver in the First World War caused the work to become a memorial to friends who had died in the conflict. Its brilliant surface sparkle, elegant dances and restrained sorrow never fail to impress and Ben Grosvenor’s playing of the opening prelude was mesmeric, notes ejected like sunlight bouncing off water. Once or twice a fast tempo led to a temporary loss of the melodic line but overall the drive and poise in the performance was gripping. In the quieter numbers there was a wonderful sense of calm, helped by beautifully weighted chords and occasionally pierced with the composer’s piquant harmonies.

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The recital concluded with Liszt’s trio of pieces Venezia e Napoli written as postscript to Italie from Annees de pelerinage.

Two are based on gondolier’s songs and the third is a tarantella. All of Liszt’s pianistic invention and spectacular effects are on display and technique and stamina of the highest order are called for.

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Needless to say Grosvenor was equal to everything and his performance of the final tarantella seemed an apt summary of this masterful recital.

Gareth Jones

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