In OC debut, British Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor Plays with Fire and Elegance

By Truman C. Wang

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The 24-year-old former child prodigy Benjamin Grosvenor has been performing in public since age 10 with no signs of slowing down.  This month sees the young pianist in a whirlwind tour of 11 concerts in Canada, U.S., U.K. and South America, playing an eclectic program of classics and Spanish works.  This OC concert took place on May 3 at the Segerstrom Concert Hall under the auspices of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County

It was apparent from this concert that Mr. Grosvenor comes from a long line of British pianists – Paul Lewis, Christian Blackshaw, Clifford Curzon, et al – who combine a fine virtuoso technique and great polish in their playing.  Additionally, Mr. Grosvenor has the knack of making a piece dance by emphasizing or revealing its inherent dance rhythm.  The gently rushing arpeggios in Schumann’s Arabesque were pure poetry under Mr. Grosvenor’s fleet fingers.  Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B-flat Major K.333 was youthfully energetic tempered by an underlying elegance.  More poetry followed in Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, where the famous adagio was as delicately spun as the presto agitato was maniacal.  Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2 shares the slow-fast format of the Beethoven and received the same elegant virtuoso treatment from Mr. Grosvenor – although I missed the drama and brio in the hands of Russian pianists.  Two pieces from Granados’ Goyescas nicely conveyed the perfumed nocturnal mood of ‘Los Requiebros’ and the giddying swirl of the fandango.  The final piece on the program, the rarely-heard Rhapsodie espagnole by Liszt, completed the high-contrast theme of this concert, where the fast section collided with the slow section in an explosive but very controlled, very British, manner.  Mr. Grosvenor’s playing in the demonically-difficult Liszt was a tour-de-force thrill. 

It is a rare pianist to possess the right temperament and technique for the pieces he or she plays; Benjamin Grosvenor is such a pianist.  In the next few weeks, South America will be in for a treat.

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Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.