Young pianist brings exceptional artistry to the long-neglected transcription

By Lawrence Budmen

Benjamin Grosvenor performed a recital program with several keyboard transcriptions Tuesday night for Friends of Chamber Music. Photo: Sussie Ahlburg

The prodigiously gifted twenty-year-old British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor returned to Friends of Chamber Music Tuesday night for a generous program that featured transcriptions and reinventions of familiar music as well as some keyboard rarities. Word about Grosvenor’s fast-rising career, appearances with major orchestras and recordings has been getting around, bringing a large and eager audience of piano buffs to the University of Miami’s Gusman Concert Hall.

Grosvenor’s technical arsenal is exceptional for an artist of any age. He can play the most rhythmically complex pieces at lightning speed with note-perfect accuracy. His tonal palette and full range of dynamics are impressive and can enhance his performances well beyond the sometimes cold, over-percussive playing of some competition winners. Grosvenor’s gifts shone most impressively in the rarely played Beethoven sonata and Bach transcriptions on the first half of the program.

In a pre-concert lecture UM music professor Frank Cooper pointed out that transcriptions were banished from recital programs for much of the twentieth century. Over the last four decades the advocacy of such virtuosos as Earl Wild and Raymond Lewenthal helped to restore these arrangements to their rightful place in the keyboard repertoire.

Grosvenor opened the program with five Bach transcriptions. His performance of Bach’s Siciliano from the Flute Sonata No. 2 (arranged by legendary pianist Wilhelm Kempff) was serene and grave, Grosvenor emphasizing the flowing melodic line. He brought vibrant agility to the rapid swirls of notes in the Rummel arrangement of Ertodt’ uns durch dein’ Gute.

In Alexander Siloti’s arrangement of the Prelude in E minor, Grosvenor brought plaintive nobility and eloquence to this Russian-accented view of the Baroque. Two Saint-Saens transcriptions (the Largo from Violin Sonata No.3 and Sinfonia from Wir Danken Dir, Gott, Wir Danken Dir) were more florid and romanticized, and Grosvenor’s fleet, big-boned approach turned the cantata excerpt into an unabashed pianistic showpiece.

Grosvenor’s winning interpretation of Beethoven’s Sonata in E Major, Op. 7 played to his pianistic strengths. A lithe opening Allegro molto heralded large contrasts of volume. The Largo was coolly elegant, Grosvenor’s exceptionally clean playing highlighting the voicing in the left hand. He captured the quirky, heavily-syncopated rhythm of the third movement, nicely encompassing the classical turns and curves of phrasing. The graceful repetitions of the principal subject in the Rondo finale contrasted sharply with the bumptious, rhythmic secondary theme.

In the more virtuosic pieces on the program’s second half, Grosvenor was most impressive in four rarely heard Mazurkas by Scriabin. His idiomatic rhythmic inflections, dexterity and sensitivity to the deep emotional undercurrents of these Chopinesque vignettes registered strongly. The pianist’s rhythmically alert, finely detailed reading of Scriabin’s Valse, Op. 38 emphasized the beguiling, Gallic-infused melody in the manner of Ravel’s La Valse.

Chopin’s Polonaise in F-sharp minor was technically dazzling but the bold accents and demonic fury seemed more appropriate to Liszt than Chopin. Adolf Schultz-Evler’s lavish Arabesques on Strauss’s On the Beautiful Blue Danube was the high-octane finale, the light, airy opening and sparkling filigree displaying Grosvenor’s bravura credentials. With continuing artistic maturity and refinement, Grosvenor’s abundant talent presages a major, wide ranging career.

Friends of Chamber Music’s next concert features the Ehnes Quartet playing works by Barber, Shostakovich, Wolf and Ravel 4 p.m. March 5 at Saint Andrews Episcopal Church, 14260 Old Cutler Road in Palmetto Bay. 305-372-2975;

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Young pianist brings exceptional artistry to the long-neglected transcription”

  1. Posted Feb 21, 2013 at 5:50 am by Mary Williams

    With so many pianists about and so much competition it is amazing that when Benjamin
    starts to play our heads go up.’ That’s Benjamin Grosvenor’,we say.
    He Makes you listen. What a wonderful gift he has.

  2. Posted Feb 24, 2013 at 7:59 pm by Steve Haufe

    You’d think a supposedly sophisticated Miami audience would not have applauded after each of the Bachs, Grosvenor not rising from the bench after the first a clue.

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