Grosvenor closes FOCM season with power and poetry

By Lawrence Budmen

Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor performed a recital Tuesday night for Friends of Chamber Music of Miami. Photo: Marco Borggreve

Benjamin Grosvenor’s annual recitals for the Friends of Chamber Music have been consistently strong but, on Tuesday night, the British pianist assayed a program of works by Liszt and Chopin that would be difficult to surpass. The concert at Florida International University’s Wertheim Performing Arts Center was also a vivid demonstration of Grosvenor’s command of pianistic technique  as well as his continued growth as an artist.

Liszt’s Sonata in B minor can seem hollow and bombastic in lesser hands. Grosvenor, however, delivered a reading marked by compelling drama and huge contrasts of volume, texture and aura. The opening motif, taken slowly, resounded like an ominous rumble from the keyboard. In Grosvenor’s stormy iteration of the principal theme octaves were dispatched with total accuracy at top speed. Grosvenor made the piano both thunder and sing.  

The Andante sostenuto was elegantly shaped, both ruminative and songful in an almost vocal manner., Grosvenor managed to find depth of expression in pages that other pianists play in a superficial manner. The Allegro energico was a dark scherzo, projected with fury. With a reflective reprise of the recurring melody. Throughout the performance, Grosvenor’s variation of forte and softness added color and tension to the musical pulse. Following the massive climactic volleys, the coda benefited from understatement, the final quiet bars beautifully conveyed.

If the Liszt sonata was the summit of Grosvenor’s program, the remainder proved hardly lacking in rewards. He preceded the Liszt with a large-scale reading of Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, played almost like an etude rather than a vignette. Liszt’s Berceuse in D-flat Major, which opened the concert’s second half, sensitively brought out the more poetic side of both the composer and performer.

Chopin has become something of a Grosvenor specialty, and his recording of both Chopin concertos garnered a Gramophone award. His intense reading of the Polish master’s Sonata No. 3 in B minor opened with rapid cascades of notes across the keyboard. The secondary subject offered the requisite contrast, conveyed with astute warmth and rhapsodic scope. 

Even more than in the Liszt sonata, Grosvenor managed to alternate pianistic thunder with exquisite pianissimos. He took the Molto vivace marking of the Scherzo seriously, producing speed and deft precision. Grosvenor avoided the choppiness that creeps into some performances of the Largo, phrasing in long paragraphs and a fine sense of forward line. A taut, no frills approach to the Presto finale unleashed torrents of power at high voltage.

A standing ovation and bravos brought Grosvenor back for a powerhouse encore of Vladimir Horowitz’s flamboyant transcription of Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever, combining showmanship with whimsical flourishes in perfect proportion.

The 2024-2025 season of Friends of Chamber Music opens October 4 with the Ehnes Quartet. Other artists scheduled to appear are the Jerusalem Quartet, New York Philharmonic Quartet with clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein, pianists Simon Trpceski, Zlota Chochieva and Stephen Hough, Hermitage Piano Trio, Trio Zimbalist, cellist Julian Schwarz with pianist Asiya Korepanova and pianist Ken Noda with a vocal artist TBA.

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Wed May 22, 2024
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