Benjamin Grosvenor - the prodigy grown up

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Ricordanza
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Location: Southern New Jersey, USA

Benjamin Grosvenor - the prodigy grown up

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Nov 12, 2017 5:52 pm

What happens when musical prodigies grow up? Some of them fade out. In their late teens and twenties, they find that they can no longer rely on their youthfulness to stand out from the crowd of other gifted musicians.

But then there are those like British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. Now age 25, he is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading pianists. His Philadelphia debut recital on Friday evening, November 10, showed why he is so highly regarded.

Although his pianistic gifts were recognized at an early age, Grosvenor never considered himself a prodigy. Interviewed at the ripe old age of 18, he said, "I wasn't one of those prodigies you read about who went to the piano and could just pick out tunes. My mother tried to start me when I was five, but I couldn't be bothered. I only began practising seriously when my friends at school started to play, and I thought, 'they're not going to get better than me!'"

And he is not the boastful type. In the same interview, Grosvenor had this to say, “I'm not that talented, musically. I obviously have some kind of gift for interpreting music, but really otherwise, I'm not that talented."

Well, allow me to differ. The evidence was on display at this recital, which featured the following program:

Bach: French Suite in G Major, BWV 816
Brahms/Dean: Four Pieces, Op. 119/Hommage à Brahms
Debussy: Prelude à l’après midi d’un faune [Arranged by Leonard Borwick]
Berg: Piano Sonata, Op. 1
Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit

The recital opened with a performance of Bach that was a model of clarity and exquisite phrasing. The energetic closing Gigue was a special delight.

In a bit of creative programming, Grosvenor interspersed the four pieces of Brahms Op. 119 with three recent works collectively entitled Hommage à Brahms by the Australian composer Brett Dean. Perhaps the first of the Dean pieces (Angels’ Wings) could be considered slightly Brahmsian in that it featured an expanded keyboard of deep bass notes with a treble melodic line. As for the other two pieces, I really didn’t hear the connection. Nevertheless, apart from an exceedingly meandering rendition of the first Brahms Intermezzo (the weakest of the set), Grosvenor delivered warmly expressive performances of the other two Intermezzi and the Rhapsody.

Debussy’s Prelude à l’après midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) seems like an odd candidate for a piano transcription. The original is unique for its orchestral texture, so what’s the point of presenting it as a piano piece? Yet given the limitations of transcription, Grosvenor’s performance brought forth enough pianistic colors to make this enjoyable.

Alban Berg’s first published piece, a one-movement sonata, is written in a musical language that is largely atonal, but it has the feel of late Romanticism. Grosvenor’s performance reflected this, combining the anxiety of modernism with the passionate intensity of an earlier era.

Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit is one of the most challenging works for pianists, and perhaps because of this, one of the most popular among those with the “chops” to perform it. It’s also popular with audience members, including this one, since it is nothing less than a musical masterpiece. There’s no doubt that Grosvenor has the chops, but it was clear from this electrifying performance that he had something more—the ability to convey the grotesque and mysterious atmosphere which Ravel conjured so convincingly.

The evening concluded with one delectable encore, a Moszkowski etude.

arepo
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Joined: Thu May 07, 2009 6:02 pm

Re: Benjamin Grosvenor - the prodigy grown up

Post by arepo » Tue Nov 14, 2017 5:54 pm

Another fine summary by Philadelphia's top reviewer.
I completely agree with your comments. This young man is an exceptional talent and I wonder what he will bring us in another ten years.
The Bach was stunning and the Ravel equal to any other pianist I've heard on this excruciatingly difficult work.
Thank you, Henry. :)

cliftwood

Holden Fourth
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Re: Benjamin Grosvenor - the prodigy grown up

Post by Holden Fourth » Tue Nov 21, 2017 4:03 am

I look forward to every new Grosvenor recording. The last pianist I did this for was Kissin. I think that Grosvenor is going to be even better.

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