Notes and Editorial Reviews
For his second solo album on Decca, Benjamin Grosvenor has assembled a typically imaginative and appealing programme of piano music inspired by the dance form.
Dances is a dazzling display of solo works for piano from Bach to Boogie Woogie; via Chopin, Granados, Albeniz, Scriabin and the Blue Danube.
Shining the spotlight on the music of movement, this album was inspired by a letter from the great pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni to his pupil Egon Petri proposing a “dance programme” as a theme for Petri’s recitals, a concept Grosvenor expanded on for his Queen Elizabeth Hall debut recital in 2012.
“The Bach Partita was
marvelously light, Grosvenor’s super-dry bass notes acting like the tiny push that keeps the balloon aloft. That dry, plucked bass, placed with perfect precision, came back in Chopin’s F sharp minor Polonaise, giving it a superb poise. And the tumultuous octaves that begin the piece had a tremendous thrilling bite. Fire and air are Grosvenor’s elements, and under his hands music seems to be made entirely from them.” (The Daily Telegraph, review of QEH concert).
“Grosvenor is above all a technical wizard, a Harry Potter-like conjuror of the keyboard who can summon breath taking cascades of notes. And yet, unlike other technically brilliant pianists, he does not seem to want to show off. He never bangs, never plays to the gallery, and certainly would not think of breaking into a sweat.” (The Financial Times, review of QEH concert).
A former Gramophone Young Artist of the Year, Grosvenor was awarded the honour of opening the BBC Proms Concerts season in 2011 and the youngest-ever soloist to perform on the ‘First Night’
R E V I E W:
Music influenced by dance forms is the theme of Benjamin Grosvenor’s second Decca solo release. The opener is a decidedly “old school” treatment of Bach’s Fourth Partita with no repeats observed, where beauty of tone and a wide palette of nuances take precedence over the kind of linear specificity we get from comparable colorists like Murray Perahia, Angela Hewitt, and Rosalyn Tureck. Two Chopin works follow.
In contrast to many modern-day pianists who linger over the Andante spianato and put you to sleep in the process, Grosvenor’s brisk yet flexible tempo helps create an attractively undulating left-hand accompaniment. It leads into a Grand Polonaise full of fanciful rubato and amazingly deft, sparsely pedaled right-hand passagework that reminds me of Josef Hofmann’s similar suppleness and glib tendencies.
The difference between Grosvenor’s attention-getting voicings, color shifts, and dynamic dips and those of Vladimir Horowitz in Chopin’s F-sharp minor Polonaise is that the older pianist’s sense of rhythm and dynamic deployment is more direct, purposeful, and dramatically effective. By contrast, the sensuous surface style of three Mazurkas and the A-flat Waltz Op. 18 by Scriabin better absorbs Grosvenor’s affetuoso temperament.
The pianist offers a lighter, faster, and more subjectively phrased take on Granados’ Eight Valses poéticos in comparison to the more straightforward scintillation of Alicia de Larrocha. The latter’s eloquent and exquisitely timed Albéniz/Godowsky Tango has a depth and expressive simplicity that Grosvenor’s superficial tempo fluctuations can’t begin to touch. Yet by focusing on the melodies and keeping the basic pulse steady in the main sections (transitions are another thing), Grosvenor tosses off the Schulz-Evler/Strauss Blue Danube transcription’s torrents of notes with an almost detached effortlessness and weightless sweep.
The concluding selection, Morton Gould’s Boogie-Woogie Etude, truly swings, abounding with perky accents and dynamic hairpins. Yet I prefer Shura Cherkassky’s various recordings, which are less jazzy in regard to inflection, but bring the propulsive left-hand boogie accompaniment more to the fore. One hopes that the 22-year-old Grosvenor’s musicianship will reach a consistent plateau on par with the uncanny refinement and sophistication of his pianism. Mark Ainley’s superbly written booklet notes discuss the music informatively and succinctly.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Valses poeticos by Enrique Granados
Benjamin Grosvenor (Piano)
Written: 1887; Spain
Boogie Woogie Etude by Morton Gould
Benjamin Grosvenor (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1943; USA
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