SILICON VALLEY, CA. -- Internationally recognized by his brilliance at the keyboard, British pianist BENJAMIN GROSVENOR is one of the most important pianists to emerge from the UK in several decades. Sponsored by the Steinway Society the Bay Area, on March 25th, he returned to Silicon Valley to give a live & live stream concert from the stage of The Louis B Mayer Theatre in Santa Clara University.
Since winning the BBC of London Young Musician Competition at the age of 11 years old, GROSVENOR has been named as one of the "golden generation" pianists of today by Gramophone, and we should add that in his local concert, he demonstrated his mastery.
He started his concert with the Bach-Busoni, Chaconne in D minor (From Violin-partita No 2, BWV 1004.) For those unfamiliar with the Bach-Busoni Editions, we can describe them as a series of publications written by Italian pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) during a 30-years span, containing piano transcriptions of the keyboard music by Johann Sebastian Bach, with technical performance suggestions (by Busoni) to the pianists who would be performing them. Among his suggestions, are practice exercises, complete analysis of the music, an essay on the art of transcribing Bach's organ music for piano, and a complete analysis of the fugue from Beethoven's "Hammersklavier Sonata." The later editions containing also adaptations of Busoni's compositions based on Bach's music.
GROSVENOR's Bach Chaconne in D Minor was executed masterfully by the pianist. His dynamics were perfectly marked. There was enough contrast in its volume, which changed often from piano to forte in parts, and from slow to fast in its tempo. But perhaps the pianist most prominent quality while interpreting the piece the night of his concert, was GROSVENOR's fast and accurate digitalization in his left and in his right hand and even during his hand-cross overs, which allowed his audience to listen to each note played clearly. We could add that by selecting this particularly difficult piece to start his concert, the pianist made to his Silicon Valley audience a very impressive introduction.
On his second number, German composer Robert Schuman's Fantasia in C Major, Op. 17, GROSVENOR transported his audience to another time and to a completely different Genre of music. Written in l836, by Schuman and dedicated to the French composer Franz Liszt, who called it a work of the highest kind, Fantasia, is considered in the concert world, not only as one of Schuman's earliest work from his Romantic Period, but at his greatest composition for solo piano.
In its musical form the Fantasia (its name meaning something fantastic) may be described as written by Schuman in a loose three movement sonata form with its first movement delivering the tone of the legend (the fantasia). Because of it, the first movement is not only rhapsodic (similar to a rhapsody in sound) but the character of its music, passionate. In contrast, its second movement, (written in E major) is energetic in rhythm, but moderate in tempo. Its third movement is slow, and Schuman constructed it by repeating episodes of its first two previous movement, and ending it quietly.
The Fantasia start with a theme, which is first introduced by fast rolling chords played on the left hand, which increase in volume and switch to the right hand before both hands join in playing rolling chords. After a new theme is introduced the volume of the music increases and the music changes speed.
To be able to convey to an audience the sudden changes in tempo, and dynamics, of the piece, the pianist must know the work thoroughly, and master his digitalization because the piece was written for Liszt, who as we know, had big hands and long fingers, required for its proper interpretation because the piece is very technical. To play it accurately, it demands the perfect control of its sound at specific times, because its volume fluctuates often from soft, to very soft, to loud. And more than just play it, the Fantasia requires interpretation. It also demand a perfect digitalization because, in parts, the fingers on both hands of the pianist are playing so fast, that the sound of the music gives the audience the impression to be floating like a cloud stretched over the keyboard of the piano. . On that night, we could say that the piece was GROSVENOR'S best interpretation.
After a brief intermission, from Robert Schuman, GROSVENOR continued his concert with the the music of French/ Spanish (because he was born at the border of both countries ) Jose Maurice Ravel (1873-1937) Who according to many musicologists, was a composer so prolific in his compositions that one could name any musical genre and probably discover that Ravel was also formative in it.
From Ravel, the pianist interpret his Prelude V, a curious set of piano pieces better known as Le Tobeuu de Couperin, which is often wrongly translated as The Tomb of Couperin, because few people know that Ravel used a Baroque term used in 17th Century France, when he named his piece and that using the term what Tombeau means is a work written in memory of a person, which is what Ravel was doing when he wrote his set of six piano pieces, (four orchestrated) between the years 1914 and 1917 as a tribute to the memory of (François Couperin "The Great" (1668-1733) ) a friend and soldier who died fighting in WWI.
In this work, Ravel gives his audience a richness of harmonies and sounds, but also contrast in its execution and in the interpretation of its different melodies. The slow ones, played softly, the loud played fast and rhythmic. There are others who repeat, loud, and rhythms, sounding similar to a group of galloping horses running wild in a field. And to contrast all of them, at the end some are are gentle, resembling in sound, church bells, tolling on a belfry. To be able to convey all these differences in sounds in an orchestra, is easy, but to convey them on a piano, demands a perfect control of the instrument on the part of the pianist. GROSVENOR's perfect digitalization and his use dynamics. mastered each one of them during his concert.
The concert ended with the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) considered the most prolific and original composers of the early 20th Century. with his Sonata No. 7 in B Flat Major (his most famous) which he originally called Stalingrad,and later became part of what he described as his "war Sonatas" (depicting in his dissonances the clashes of wars).
Prokofiev wrote this particular sonata to mock the Sonata form, which it lacks. and in his writing it, used some of the most dissonant music that Prokofiev ever wrote. In its first movement, Allegro Inquieto, the tempo and rhythm are very nervous and the music has nothing but clashing sounds. In the Andande Caloroso, its second movement, its tempo is long, slow, and the notes, like lost souls, wonders all over the different keyboards, without direction. The result are very loud clashing sounds. In its Precipitato,, its third movement, the notes return to their original key, in nothing but dissonant sounds, and the piece ends with a fast and loud roll of chords played on the lower notes of the piano.
To interpret this sonata as written, requires the keyboard mastery that GROSVENOR has. He also master its technical difficulties. He also excelled in its digitalization and showed an absolute control of dynamics which changed suddenly from soft to loud.
We will end our review by suggesting that because this particular piece may not have been a piece that people expected to hear in a piano concert because of it many loud clashy dissonances, it may have been reserved for an audience who likes (or understands) that type of music or in a Prokofiev's concert. The reason is that on that night, Prokofiev's meandering melodies, constant dissonances, loud volume and clashing sounds, may have offended the sensibility of some people in the audience with sensitive ears.