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Benjamin Grosvenor Hits the Big Time

available at Amazon
Chopin / Liszt / Ravel, B. Grosvenor

(released on February 28, 2012)
Decca 478 3206 | 75'15"
When Benjamin Grosvenor won the keyboard award at the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2004, the British pianist was all of 11 years old. His performance then was so striking, so composed for someone so young, that it added force to gripes about the overall award going to violinist Nicola Benedetti. Since then, Grosvenor has been the darling of the British press, and his story certainly has appeal: the son of a piano teacher mother, he started piano only when he was six and is now completing studies at the Royal Academy of Music. He also gives recitals and concerto appearances all over the world, including opening the Proms last year, quite an honor for someone his age -- and, this afternoon, his debut on Washington Performing Arts Society's Hayes Piano Series with a recital at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

Grosvenor signed a recording deal with Decca last year, too, and his first disc, a recital of Chopin, Liszt, and Ravel, has just been released, to go along with an album of encore favorites made earlier. It's a clever bit of programming, alternating all four of Chopin's scherzos, to show off his technical prowess, with four of the nocturnes, for finesse. The scherzos are certainly fast, with the outer sections of no. 1, placed first, sounding almost like a player piano with the tempo juiced to the max. There is at times almost not enough time for the ear to register anything, the notes go by so fast. The slow section of that scherzo is milked for maximum contrast, but at times it is almost too soft and slow. Similarly, the first nocturne he plays (op. 15/2) has a wan tonal quality, a wilting softness that is somewhat affected. All of the scherzo-nocturne pairings are presented in much the same way, but the program gets more interesting, followed by two of Liszt arrangements of Chopin's songs and a Liszt nocturne. The selection is then crowned by Ravel's notoriously difficult Gaspard de la nuit, also the climax of his Kennedy Center recital. It is the sort of piece we hear so many young pianists using to show off their technical bona fides. Grosvenor has the technique, although perhaps not yet the sense to know how far is too far to push the effect of finger-smashing speed, and interpretative depth, heard in the Ravel and in the dissonant bagatelles of Carl Vine, played at the BBC competition and embedded in the video below. It remains to be seen how far he takes the promise of his youth when he reaches full maturity.

(See also his Scarlatti)

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