★★★★★ A dazzling display of pianism by a bright, young British talent.
Sydney Opera House, Utzon Room
November 1, 2015
Since bursting on to the British classical music scene as an uncannily mature 11 year-old, taking out the keyboard final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor’s meteoric rise has been likened to that of Russian superstar Evgeny Kissin.
Recording with Decca by the age of 19, and astounding the audience at the first night of the Proms in London in that same year, Grosvenor’s career has been the stuff of Hollywood.
It would be easy to have your head turned by all this adulation but it doesn’t seem to be the case with this fifth son of a Southend piano teaching mother and English teacher father. And apparently he is his own fiercest critic, often recording his recitals to see where there’s room for improvement.
I don’t know if this recital in the Utzon Series at the Sydney Opera House was recorded, but it would be hard to imagine that it could have been bettered.
Opening with two preludes and fugues from Mendelssohn’s Op. 35 collection, the first fugue showing the composer’s reverence for JS Bach whose works he championed when they fell out of favour as being “too old fashioned”, Grosvenor showed not only the prodigious security of his technique but his expressive power.
Clarity of line and lightness of touch were a highlight of the next work on the programme – Chopin’s Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op 22. The simple magic of the andante gave way to playing straight from the heart when it came to the dazzling polonaise.
Ravel exploited the colours and timbres of the piano in his works, none more so than Le Tombeau de Couperin, each of the six parts of the work being dedicated to comrades killed in World War I in which the undersized composer served as a volunteer truck driver caring for the wounded.
Here the 23-year-old virtuoso was equally at home, from the Baroque-like ornamentation of the prelude, through the mischievous “wrong note” theme of the forlane to the digital dexterity of the toccata.
Grosvenor shifted from the pastel shades of impressionism to the visceral purples and reds of Liszt’s palette for the finale with three pieces from the Venezia e Napoli section of the Years of Pilgrimage suites.
The Utzon Room’s window on the harbour proved the perfect backdrop for the canal’s gently rocking motion accompanying the gondoliera song, and the afternoon ended with the hair-raising power chords and scurrying runs of the tarantella.
Grosvenor eschews flamboyant gestures, either crouching intently over the keyboard or sitting up straight and letting the music do the talking.
No words to the audience then, but shy smiles to acknowledge the rapturous reception and a lovely jazz-infused encore to finish off this dazzling display by a musician who has rightly been dubbed one of the brightest talents of his generation.
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Nov 6-7
Recitals Australia, Nov 8
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Nov 13-14