We welcomed nearly 120 members to the New Year extravaganza of a two-day feast by pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. This was our first attempt, quite ambitious as you might imagine, to organise two recitals on successive evenings. Were there some uncertainties as to whether we can run them successfully? Definitely. However, now I can confidently say that hearing this wonderful programme performed by one of the world’s most prominent young pianists twice in a row is something you don’t come across very often, and the experience was exceptional and irreplaceable.
Benjamin says he loves Schumann. The first half of the programme was all Schumann – the short and attractive Blumenstuck followed by Kreisleriana. The Blumenstuck was performed with the utmost intimate charm; the voicing of the recurring episodes was sweet and clear, as if the melody was floating and singing above the rest of the notes while the left hand’s subtlety was superb with a slightly enforced baseline. Benjamin’s rendition of Kreisleriana, an emotional musical drama of overwrought passions, eloquently portrayed its impulsiveness and dreaminess. Each movement had continuous contrasting mood changes; you would go through hurling agonized and thunderous passions at one moment then, next moment, all the tensions lifted to find the most peaceful and gentle passages. The switches in mood kept the audience focused the entire time and some of the pianissimo passages were heavenly – Benjamin’s phenomenal touch was able to create a serenity that felt just audible but gave an extraordinary clarity.
If the first half of Schumann works gave out the beauty of an imaginary world, Janacek’s Piano Sonata gave an insight into the harsh reality of the real world. The gripping performance expressed an intense sonority. The first movement’s plaintive melody was disturbed and swallowed by rumbling in the base, and the next process of panic-stricken trills resolving into the chordal subject was a sheer beauty. It is still lingering in my head.
The incredible varieties of layers and textures of the sound, vibrant rhythm, and unique tonality were much enjoyed in a cluster of short individual movements of Prokofiev’s Vision Fugitives.
Liszt’s Reminiscences de Norma was 17 minutes of madness, but this seemingly humanly-unplayable piece of music was unlocked by the hands of Benjamin, offering a spellbinding operatic elegance, vibrant vividness and majestic beauty.
Benjamin is a musician with an outpouring musicality and his own very clear musical ideas, and most importantly, excellent technique that matches and executes them. We thank him for giving us these incredible opportunities to hear him up close.