Die fliegende Holländer – Overture
Piano Concerto in D, Op.13
The Oceanides, Op.73
La mer – three symphonic sketches
Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 25 October, 2013
Venue: Orchestra Hall, Detroit, Michigan
With apologies to Iris Murdoch: The Sea, The Sea. Thus this Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert could have been entitled. The doomed Dutchman, condemned to sail the oceans, launched the programme. Wagner’s Overture to his opera was slightly underpowered in the tempestuous sections but sensitively and dynamically played elsewhere and certainly cohesive.
Teddy Abrams, now in his mid-20s, is the DSO’s assistant conductor. On 18 August 1938, the 25-year-old Britten was the soloist in the premiere of this work – at the BBC Proms with Sir Henry Wood conducting. Benjamin Grosvenor, now 21, has notched up quite a few performances in recent years. The opening ‘Toccata’ was propulsive, although the DSO’s gabbling woodwinds lacked the last degree of precision. Grosvenor, technically secure, is now digging deeper into the potential of this music. Obliqueness and clouds and the uncertainties of the time (World War Two was recognisably not far away). This performance penetrated into Britten’s awareness of this. The middle movements, respectively a ‘Waltz’ and an ‘Impromptu’, the latter a replacement in 1945 for the original third movement, also had an edge. The march of the finale, which suggests deliberate hollowness, emerges from shadows and melancholia – Britten was quite a diarist in his music. Certainly Grosvenor did the Piano Concerto proud, the DSO and Abrams alive to the ominous elements of the music.
The finest music-making of this morning gig came in the brooding and mysterious Sibelius’s The Oceanides, perfectly paced and coloured by Abrams and the DSO; nymphettes of sound were produced from the flutes, the music delicately brought off as it danced and glinted, and the score’s powerful undertow was also vividly brought out to further distinguish a really impressive outing. Finally, Debussy’s La mer, given a detailed and flowing reading, one full of atmosphere and in its initial dawning persuasively time-taken. As we headed for midday there were some gorgeous-sounding cellos. In the second-movement ‘Play of the Waves’ tempos were well chosen for maximum expressiveness, the intricacies of the music finely poised by the DSO, and the finale’s wind-and-sea dialogue was dramatic and exciting (I would have liked the ad lib brass fanfares though!). All in all, impressive, and one might even run the headline: “A Triumph for Teddy!”.