Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
DECCA 478 5334
reviewed by Neville Cohn
If you are one of the very few piano enthusiasts not yet familiar with the name Benjamin Grosvenor, I do urge you strongly to rush out to the nearest record shop and, without delay, purchase a copy of his Dances compilation on the DECCA label. Better still, purchase two copies (one for yourself and another for a friend who will be deeply in your debt for such a magnificent present) – and then disconnect the phone, don’t pay any attention to knocking on the front door or the peas boiling over on the stove – and allow this wonderful musicmaking to take over your soul.
All this is a rather wordy was of saying that this recording is one of the most satisfying and sheerly beautiful piano performances I’ve heard in a long time. And the fact that the pianist is still in his twenties is astounding because the playing is informed by a maturity and depth of expression that is quite at variance with his youth. The courante from Bach’s Partita No 4 in D is so deliciously buoyant that I wanted to get up and dance to it.
Grosvenor’s Bach is bewitchingly beautiful; its superb grasp of style and faultless evocation of mood are profoundly satisfying. The minuet is sheer delight with exquisite rhythmic and tonal nuances, a little miracle of clarity – and the gigue is beyond criticism.
In Chopin’s Andante spianato, we listen to effortlessly rippling semiquavers above which is a finely etched melody line. The Grande Polonaise Brillante is just that – grand and brilliant. The same could be said of Chopin’s Polonaise opus 44, the playing oscillating between rugged, stentorian power and quiet murmurings that caress the ear.
Here, and throughout a gruelling musical journey, faultless taste is constantly in evidence demonstrating musical insights quite out of proportion to Grosvenor’s youth. It’s as if this pianist came into the world already finely formed as pianist extraordinaire. But there is also much about Grosvenor’s musicianship which suggests he is the beneficiary of guidance at the highest level.
There are three mazurkas by Scriabin, that in C sharp minor winningly capricious
And a waltz in A flat is bittersweet; the composer directs it be played carezzando and, indeed, this is tone that caresses the ear.
Of a bracket of eight miniature waltzes by Granados, it is the fifth, informed by a delightful Viennese lilt – and the nostalgia-drenched sixth – which are as near to perfection as one could hope.
There is yet more dazzling pianism in Schulz-Evler’s ferociously taxing “Arabesques on Johann Strauss’ By the Beautiful Blue Danube”. Again and again, while listening to this, I was reminded of the virtuosity of that handful of ultra-virtuosi who bestrode the music world in the early years of recording – Godowsky, de Pachmann (in his occasional moments of musical sanity) and the young Horowitz. Listen to Grosvenor in a Blue Danube gorgeously expressive of an echt-Wien quality, in turn shimmering with silvery toned, gossamer-light prestidigitation and dazzling with a diamond-bright quality, all courtesy of the touch of a master playing with insights far in advance of his years.
There’s a delicious musical bonbon: Morton Gould’s Boogie-Woogie Etude. Has this miniature ever had a more virtuosic interpreter? It’s a stunning little number.