Grosvenor blends astounding technique with growing maturity in Coral Gables

By Lawrence Budmen

Benjamin Grosvenor performed Thursday night in Coral Gables for Friends of Chamber Music.

Benjamin Grosvenor performed Thursday night in Coral Gables for Friends of Chamber Music.

Benjamin Grosvenor first came to prominence as the winner of the keyboard final of the BBC Young Musicians’ Competition in 2004 at age eleven. Now a twenty-something globetrotting artist, the prodigiously gifted British pianist has become a regular visitor to Miami’s Friends of Chamber Music where he has gained a loyal and enthusiastic following.

On Thursday night Grosvenor returned with a highly varied program featuring some of the keyboard’s greatest hits at Coral Gables Congregational Church. The concert was his finest South Florida performance to date.

Grosvenor has an astounding technique. He can play the most complex scores at a hard-driving pace with total accuracy. Every note is well placed and clear. His dynamic palette spans the most minute differentiations of volume.

Grosvenor never plays anything by rote. His interpretations can be individual, even idiosyncratic. In previous Florida visits, sometimes that tendency toward youthful enthusiasm produced performances that were over the top. Chopin could sound more like Liszt. On Thursday, however, Grosvenor displayed greater artistic maturity without sacrificing his impressive command of the instrument.

His measured approach to Schumann’s Arabesque, which opened the program, brought out inner details with unusual clarity. There were striking variants of tempo and emphasis from more standard readings, even with some of Grosvenor’s elongated pauses. Grosvenor brought an especially poetic touch to the quasi-vocal line of the coda.

The first movement of Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat Major, K.333, was brightly pointed and full of urgency. Grosvenor’s full panoply of dynamic contrasts brought color to his lithe reading. The Andante cantabile benefited from Grosvenor’s patrician phrasing but his spacious tempo was well sustained, never succuming to lethargy. His traversal of the Allegretto grazioso finale was slightly slower than the norm with Mozart’s filigree deftly traced. There was appropriate weight in the contrasting minor key episode.

The famous opening movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, no. 2 (“Moonlight”) was dreamy, almost operatic. Grosvenor’s rhythmically flexible traversal of the Allegretto had a more romantic sensibility than many performances. The Presto agitato took off at a fierce pace. The stormy aura was given full reign, aided by Grosvenor’s impressive finger-work. This was not the finely proportioned approach of a Murray Perahia but a young pianist’s energetic realization of Beethoven and it had its own validity.

The first half was a mere warm up for the awesome virtuosity that Grosvenor unleashed in the concert’s post-intermission selections. Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2 (“Fantasy”) in G-sharp minor is a relative rarity. The two-movement work finds the Russian mystic at his most romantic. It also is a formidable challenge that tests the limits of an artist’s technique. Grosvenor’s synthesis of quiet restraint and big-boned heft captured the elegant color palette of the initial Andante. All the while, Grosvenor drew out the melodic fragments beneath Scriabin’s daunting figurations. The Presto was dispatched with almost devilish verve.

Grosvenor balanced the Latin flavors of “Los Requiebros” from Granados’ Goyescas within an almost classical framework. He evoked the dancing spirit of “El fandango” in crisp and controlled strokes that mixed delicacy with high wire bravura.

The concluding Rhapsodie espagnole by Liszt’s was Grosvenor’s most formidable technical feat of the evening. His deliberate pacing of the introductory “La Folia” theme expanded to a wide-ranging panorama of keyboard pyrotechnics. He tackled the knuckle-busting writing at high speed and full force. The “Jota arogonesa” was stated with lightness and elegance but Grosvenor took the climactic pages at a frantic pace while maintaining perfect accuracy. Even those for whom Liszt’s music is an acquired taste could become believers when his music is played with such musicality and imagination. Grosvenor is a force to be reckoned with.

The Friends of Chamber Music season continues with the Borodin Quartet playing Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132 and Schumann’s Piano Quintet featuring pianist Joseph Kalichstein  8 p.m. Tuesday at UM Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables.

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Fri Feb 17, 2017
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