Ever since appearing as a finalist the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year at age 11, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor has quickly become one of the most sought-after soloists in the world. His remarkably clean technique and astonishing range of colour has made him particularly celebrated in the music of Ravel and Saint-Säens. His recital in Vancouver was a clear departure from his usual repertoire – in truth, a more varied programme than the one he presented could hardly be imagined.

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

Rameau’s Gavotte and Variations opened the evening, and served as an ideal showcase for Grosvenor’s technical clarity and intelligent musicianship. It was clear from the outset that Grosvenor’s command of the keyboard is unparalleled, with a remarkable ability to go from the most intimate of pianos to fortes that filled the hall all while maintaining the clearest articulation imaginable. However, his playing lacked the necessary exuberance and flamboyance typically associated with Rameau’s dazzling music. The same sense of anonymity was also to be found in Grosvenor’s performance of Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s monumental Chaconne from the second partita for solo violin. Though Grosvenor’s interpretation was intelligently thought out, there was little sense of connection to the music, particularly in the fascinating harmonic changes in the middle section. There is no doubt, though, that it was pleasing to hear the demanding score played with such technical ease and attention to detail.

The first half of the concert ended with Franck’s Prélude, Chorale and Fugue, which was more satisfying in every way than the Rameau and Bach. Here, Grosvenor’s ravishing soft playing was exploited to full effect, and the counterpoint was delineated with great clarity. However, this clarity often came at the expense of the legato line, and as a result tended to sound somewhat choppy.

Fortunately, the second half of the programme proved a far better fit for Grosvenor’s artistry. His understated, elegant phrasing was right at home in the Chopin set, from a bravura performance of third Ballade to a melancholic, flexible presentation of two brief Mazurkas. Most fascinating was his interpretation of the famous F-sharp major Barcarolle – rather than the usual seductive legato, Grosvenor’s almost pointillistic playing presented a shimmering, ever-shifting image of Venice. Best of all, however, was in three pieces from Granados’ demanding Goyescas, a remarkably demanding suite that seemed ideally suited to Grosvenor’s virtuoso technique.

In Quejas, o la maja y el ruiseñor, the betrayed heroine and the nightingale were beautifully contrasted, the intricate ornaments never detracting from the singing quality of the line. El amor y el muerte is perhaps Granados’ most colossal composition, ranging from raw passion to the most delicate nostalgia. Grosvenor’s powerful interpretation captured the emotional volatility of the work well, though perhaps showed too much restraint in the most savage passages of the movement. El pelele served as a suitably dazzling and athletic finale to the recital – following two equally impressive encores, there is no doubt that the audience left the recital fully satisfied.

***11