British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor made a powerful Los Angeles debut on Sunday night at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. With an idiosyncratic mix of sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven and Scriabin, two short pieces by Granados and a Liszt showpiece, the 24-year-old Grosvenor summoned the likes of the great Vladimir Horowitz.
Horowitz also liked mixing and matching, and indeed, Grosvenor may be the only other pianist to begin a recital with Schumann's "Arabesque," more often used to close a program. But as a snapshot of what this young artist has to offer, Grosvenor's graceful rendition spoke volumes. Here was exquisite dynamic control, crisp articulation and sustained lyricism — all at the service of this popular Romantic work.
In a program note, Grosvenor (pronounced GROV-ner) said the Schumann was intended to set an intimate atmosphere for the following two classical sonatas. And so it did, preparing our ears for his sensitive accounts of the inward central andante of Mozart's Sonata in B-flat Major (K. 333) and the poetic opening adagio from Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata.
Though the pianist's Apollonian approach to both sonatas was admirable, one suspected a volcano being held in check. Sure enough, after a nicely balanced and tasteful reading of the Mozart sonata, Grosvenor dispatched the presto finale of the "Moonlight" with such tumultuous drama he seemed like a different pianist — a fiery virtuoso who belongs in the company of other fiery virtuosos of a young generation, like Yuja Wang and Daniil Trifonov. The standing ovation was well deserved.
After intermission, Grosvenor's concentration was put to the ultimate test, and I'm not speaking about the music. As he began an intensely lyrical account of Scriabin's Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor, the theater's house lights suddenly came up, then went back down, then came on again. This happened several times, probably an automated lighting system malfunction. In any case, Grosvenor proved unflappable, the memory of this unfortunate glitch soon erased by his magisterial playing.
The Scriabin sonata brought out Grosvenor's playful side as he captured wave upon wave of the score's capricious inventions, leading to an impetuously rendered presto finale. Grosvenor anchored the sonata's sweeping melodies with an underlying melancholic reflection. The pianist displayed incisive rhythmic vitality and abundant color in the two selections from Granados' "Goyescas," "Los Requiebros" and "El Fandango."
But the coiled power of his playing, reminiscent of Horowitz, whom Grosvenor has cited as one of his early role models, came to the fore in his dazzling rendition of Liszt's "Rhapsodie Espagnole." In the work's many flamboyant, speedy passages, Grosvenor sustained an edgeless tone, his chord voicing and balances between hands flawlessly executed. His virtuosic fireworks avoided bombast with a suppleness of phrasing that allowed this often-breathless music to breathe.
Grosvenor's encore, Moszkowski's Etude in A flat, Op. 72, No. 11, in perhaps another tip of the hat to Horowitz, who performed it in his younger years, showed a gossamer touch and winning charm. Grosvenor repeats this recital on Wednesday at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. It's worth the trip.
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Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $20 and up
Information: Philharmonic Society, (949) 553-2422, www.PhilharmonicSociety.org, or the Segerstrom box office at (714) 556-2787
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