Monday, November 22, 2021

La Palau de la Música, Barcelona

Guest Reviewer, Guy Holloway

Benjamin Grosvenor settled into Brahms’s three Opus 117 Intermezzos as if he had all the time in the World, with slight rubato and featherlike touch in the reverie of the first piece, and heightened focus on the dissolving notes and tonalities that mark the second. Here, and in the final Intermezzo, Grosvenor emphasised the impressionistic colouring of these late miniatures, shedding a fluttering half-light into the darkness.

Grosvenor’s interpretation of Liszt’s B-minor Sonata is now freer and airier than his Decca recording. He is at pains to uncover textures, harmonic relationships and colours which others gloss over. In the virtuosic passages, it’s his pinpoint accuracy and weight that conveys excitement. Often allowing space where others rush in, Grosvenor’s left-hand fully explored the work’s cavernousness and harmonic subtleties to reach the Sonata’s emotional heart and climax of the work: a revealing, and grown-up, interpretation, with the emphasis firmly on introspection and possibilities. He also played Liszt’s Berceuse (as revised), perfectly weighted and characterful, which made for compelling listening.

In Chopin’s B-minor Sonata, the first movement (without exposition repeat) lived up to its maestoso marking, and the focus on tone production and spaciousness gave a satisfyingly ‘golden age’ feel.  Grosvenor’s take on the Scherzo was certainly leggiero and molto vivace, the opening entirely non-pedalled: the effect was startling and one listened anew. The Largo produced the evening’s highlight, where one is lost in spiritual contemplation. With the return of the gentle rocking melody, Grosvenor held back exquisitely, such that each note was neither wholly expected nor wholly unfamiliar. In the Finale, eschewing pyrotechnics, he brought the work securely to a measured and fitting end, even if one yearned for a more exhilarating gallop to the finish line.

By way of an encore, I was rather hoping for some Mompou, the Catalan composer that Grosvenor has played often, but we were treated instead to a ravishingly restrained account of the second of Ginastera’s three Danzas argentinas. The audience wanted more, however, and Grosvenor relented, agreeably turning showman, and dashed off the third Dance, playing the glissandos for all he was worth. He brought the house down.