British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is no stranger to the Proms: in fact, since he made his Proms debut, performing with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night in 2011, he has become something of a Proms veteran. However, this concert marked his debut in the Chamber Proms, held at Cadogan Hall.

Benjamin Grosvenor © operaomnia.co.uk
Benjamin Grosvenor
© operaomnia.co.uk

The popular and precocious pianist presented a programme of music by Chopin, Mompou, Ravel and Gounod/Liszt, together with the world premiere of a new commission by Judith Weir, the newly-appointed master of the Queen’s music. A dance theme pulsated through this interesting and varied programme as Grosvenor explored the waltz from the contrasting perspectives of Ravel and Liszt, with interjections from Mompou, and opening with Chopin.

Grosvenor is a modest performer whose quiet stage presence suggests both deep concentration on the task at hand and a certain detachment from the audience. With his nose pressed almost to the top of the piano, he delivered a sensitively-nuanced account of Chopin’s Ballade in G minor in which he made much of the dance elements in the work. In this highly controlled performance, the big virtuoso passages almost reined in, giving an unusually intimate flavour to the work.

Mompou’s Paisajes (Landscapes) offered an atmospheric contrast to the sweeping romanticism of Chopin: three movements subtly shaded with the most, evocative dissonances, delicate pianissimos and filigree figurations suggesting the dry heat, colours and scenery of Catalonia.

In Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, the waltz theme really came to the fore, and Grosvenor seemed a good deal more at home in this repertoire, reveling in the nostalgic melodies and haunting rhythms in music which bids farewell to a genre and era.

Judith Weir introduced her work Day Break Shadows Flee, describing it as a “two-part invention” which calls to mind Bach’s construct of opposing voices and contrasting strands of melody. In Weir’s work, the “voices” are contrasts between stillness and activity with light and dark as delicate shafts of morning light chase away the melancholy velvety night. With scurrying semiquavers and nervous chromatic movements in the treble, offset by rich, plangent sonoroties in the bass, Grosvenor brought the break of day to life with a beautiful transparency and musical understanding.

The concert closed with Liszt’s transcription of the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust, a work of almost orgiastic excess and vertiginous virtuosity, which held no fear for Grosvenor. Again, he seemed comfortable in this repertoire, yet the performance lacked a certain wit and tongue-in-cheek humour, though delivered with great precision, control and authority. The ensuing encore sparkled with similar panache.

***11