Benjamin Grosvenor at the National Concert Hall, 25 January 2015
The young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor makes a return visit to Dublin with a colourful recital programme. The most extensive single work in the line-up is César Franck’s delightful Prélude, Choral et Fugue; the two pieces that come before it, however, perhaps don’t complement it as well as he may have intended. The ‘Gavotte with six doubles (variations)’ comes from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Suite in A minor, a work that precedes the modern piano by a century or more. Making a harpsichord piece sound well on a grand piano needs carefully-balanced tone and a good ear. Here, however, Grosvenor falls slightly into the trap of over-emphasising the insubstantial melody (when it arises) while running the fast figurations into light, transparent flourishes, an imbalance that makes this engaging piece less, rather than more, accessible. The problems with accessibility are compounded with his choice of Busoni’s monumental Chaconne in D minor, arranged from Bach’s work for solo violin. This piece, with its huge chords, somehow encourages an overly loud and hard sound in Grosvenor’s hands at the larger moments, though this is leavened with some dreamy playing in the quieter passages, along with impressive agility when required.
The heart of the programme comes in the Franck, for which Grosvenor projects a wonderful sense of impressionistic fervour, initially gently meditative before rising to a brilliant boldness. The most familiar works of the programme follow after the interval with four pieces by Chopin. The Barcarolle takes a little while to get going, but in its second half Grosvenor builds to a thrilling feeling of passionate romanticism. The two Mazurkas are played with clean, fluid delicacy, while his account of the Ballade No. 3 is characterised by a sense of clarity and gentle restraint, which allows the excitement at the end to be all the more telling. Grosvenor’s sense of colour, however, really comes to the fore in the three pieces from Goyescas by Enrique Granados. Insubstantial salon pieces (to some) perhaps, they nevertheless bring out the best in his playing, with surging flashes of lyricism, and elicit rapturous applause from the audience.
Rameau: ‘Gavotte with Six Doubles’ from Suite in A minor (in Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin (1726-27))
Bach arr. Busoni: ‘Chaconne in D minor’ (after Partita No. 2 for Violin, BWV 1004)
Franck: Prélude, Choral et Fugue, Op. 21
Chopin: Barcarolle in F-sharp minor (Op. 60); Mazurka in F minor (Op. 63/2); Mazurka in C-sharp minor (Op. 30/4); Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major (Op. 47)
Granados: ‘Quejas ó la maja y el ruiseñor’, ‘El amor y la muerte – Balata’, and ‘El pelele: Escena goyesca’, from Goyescas, Op. 11
Benjamin Grosvenor, piano