Benjamin Grosvenor at Wigmore Hall [Scarlatti, Mompou, Albeniz & Liszt]

Domenico Scarlatti
Sonata in D, Kk96; Sonata in D minor, Kk434
Cançons i danses [selections]
Iberia – Book I
Rhapsodie espagnole

Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 20 June, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Benjamin Grosvenor. ©Benjamin GrosvenorBenjamin Grosvenor chose a Spanish theme for his second BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall. Grosvenor won BBC Young Musician in 2004, and has just signed to Decca – but even now he is just eighteen years old. It is most gratifying to report that his programme choices were for purely musical and thematic reasons, rather than indulging technical fireworks.

Thus this intriguing hour of music began with two very contrasting Scarlatti sonatas – the first bright and articulate, testing Grosvenor’s skill at repeating notes in the right hand, while the second turned to the minor key, dark and more solemn in character. Dexterity was the order of the day here, with sympathetic dynamics used for the quieter passages, and sensitive pedalling to bring out the more intricate rhythms employed.

The music of Mompou is not often heard, but the three Cançons i danses chosen here brought out intimacy as well as vivid shades of colour. The First, a nocturnal ‘Moderato’, found Grosvenor sitting still, hunched over the piano, completely immersed in the music. The Sixth, a dance of differing halves, was nicely shaded before syncopation was introduced, the tempo increasing and the music tripping along. Clearly Grosvenor had prepared his interpretations carefully, but there was also an instinctive feel to rubato.

Only in the First Book of the Iberia odyssey did this occasionally feel like a young man playing an older man’s music, with the upper melodies of ‘Evocación’ taken with haste. That said, the same piece featured a beautifully phrased left-hand theme, while in ‘El Corpus en Sevilla’ the dynamic range was again considerable as the Corpus Christi procession moved from the near distance to the unavoidable foreground, the composer’s marked ffff observed with a clean attack.

Grosvenor’s most impressive achievement was saved until last, a powerfully characterised performance of Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole, given with an immediate sense of occasion, the initial theme pronounced strongly by the left-hand, gaining terrific conviction as it headed inevitably for a fortissimo eruption. From this Grosvenor pulled back admirably, presenting the variations with charm and finesse, stepping on the accelerator again to bring the music home. At times in this section the notes were rushed, the music increasingly carried away with itself, but that proved to be something of a ruse as the pianist assumed control once again, the crowning melody ringing out. Grosvenor’s approach to Liszt, opting for clarity rather than aggression, bodes well for his appearance at the First Night of BBC Proms, and the Second Piano Concerto.

As an encore Grosvenor stayed in Spain for Leopold Godowsky’s arrangement of Albéniz’s ‘Tango’, the second from the Opus 165 suite España. Again he showed the same commendable restraint that characterised some of the finest moments in this recital.

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