Despite the fact that we have organised many concerts by now, there always is a certain level of anxiety, as well as excitement, that builds up to the concert date. Have we arranged everything? What time is the musician arriving? Is the piano tuner booked? Will they like our piano? The list is endless, and the expectation intensifies particularly when the musician we have invited is Benjamin Grosvenor, a star pianist who has performed at both the First and Last nights of the Proms. So now he’s been, done the concert and gone, were all the preparations worth it? Absolutely! Was his performance outstanding? More than the words can ever express!
Highly sought-after musicians (or shall I say artists) bring their persona and character to the stage together with the execution of their performance. With his indisputable and unwavering focus, Benjamin could barely hide his eagerness and desire to share his inner voice and instinctive interpretation. It was an intense and involving affair, but it didn’t just end there and then, because, as I write this blog, I can still replay his beautiful phrases of the Mozart and Beethoven Sonatas, Scriabin Fantasy, and Liszt Rhapsody, in my head.
The gentle introduction of Schumann’s Arabesque immediately drew the audience in. With the softly and shapely contained left-hand accompaniment, the romantic melody took off freely, which somehow sounded as if it was magically floating in from afar.
This was followed immediately by Mozart’s Sonata No. 13. This was a delightful and charming work which Benjamin described later as the “Sun Sonata” as opposed to subsequent piece, Beethoven’s No. 14 Sonata, Moonlight. Good Mozart playing always tickles the audience’s curiosity; Benjamin’s descriptive and crisp trills added tasteful sweetness, however he also displayed the dynamic side of the sun in the 1st movement.
A total contrast was the Moonlight Sonata that followed. Often you hear the 1st movement played rather too slowly, but I thought his tempo was perfect. Benjamin kept it simple, performing it almost in a ‘matter-of-fact’ way, without the burden of overloaded emotion and exaggerated gestures. But the effect was breath-taking. The 2nd movement was a little gem, preceding the famous Presto Agitato, which Benjamin really went for to create a striking contrast.
The second half was a completely different musical heaven from the first half, consisting of a traditional Russian work, playful Spanish pieces and a triumphant virtuosic piano work.
Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata-Fantasy was a whirlwind of sounds – thousands of sounds, whether thunderous or subtle, brutal or angelic, were scattered around and then put together in a most beautiful form and order. All the notes resonated beautifully, and there was equally a beautiful connection between them.
Los Requiebros was so danceable, so enjoyable. It lifted up the mood and spirit. And talk about Benjamin’s breathtakingly immaculate finger-work… It was as if a butterfly was flying freely over the keyboard.
The Spanish theme continued into Liszt’s Rhapsodie Espagnole. This virtuosic piano piece pushes and challenges the pianist’s technical ability in every direction, but it was not even the slightest problem for Benjamin. He harmonised all the difficult elements, quite naturally, and unfolded a dynamic drama to which we were emotionally pulled in and glued. He even threw in playfulness here and there, and was acutely precise. What a joy!
Indefatigable Benjamin completed the evening with two encores – demanding etudes by Moritz Moszkowski and Nikolai Kapustin. I thought the audience (who was greedy to soak up every note of his performance) had exhausted all his energy, but apparently he was still tireless! He is one distinguished figure!