The ravishing sounds of Benjamin Grosvenor’s recreation of seamless rays of gold and silver in Ravel’s Jeux d’eau will be remembered by all those present for a long time.
It is not since Moiseiwitch that we have heard effortless natural sounds of such simple beauty.
It was the same sound that opened the second half of the recital with Albeniz Evocacion followed by the infectious excitement of El Puerto and the hysterical outpouring of exultation in Fete Dieu a Seville.
There were transcendental feats of athleticism and diabolical technical prowess in Ravel’s La Valse- glissandi that spread over the keyboard with breathtaking ease.The sumptuous sounds and relentless devilish dance entranced and mesmerised us as of course Ravel intended.
It was though the disarming simplicity and ravishing sounds of a single magical encore of Ginastera’s Argentinian Dance n. 2 ,whispered with gloriously obsessive insistence,that silenced the audience who instinctively knew quantity had no place here when the quality of perfection had been reached.
The recital was the same as the one I would have heard in the San Carlo Opera House in Naples last Thursday .A phone snatch had me racing back to London to replace stolen documents that I should have known better than to take into the jungle with me especially after forty years of regularly frequenting this wonderful city.
The two major works by Franck and Schumann would have benefitted from the distance that is needed to be able to wallow in the romantic sounds reverberating freely around a vast horseshoe shaped opera house.
There were so many wonderful things to admire but there were also moments when one would have longed for a more resonant sumptuous sound without any hard edges.The golden sound that Rachmaninov always had in mind when composing – that of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The Cesar Franck Prelude,Chorale and Fugue was like embarking on a voyage of discovery.A work I have heard many times ,even this week,and is returning more regularly into the concert repertoire.But today’s performance was different.From the opening notes played with such delicacy it was like a cloud of smoke hovering above the keys until gradually the declamatory chords brought us back to the real world.Some very subtle contrapuntal playing of ravishing sounds but as the tension mounted the sound began to harden and remarkable as it was missed the sumptuous rich sound of the truly grand style.The simple plain chant of the chorale was answered by the celestial chords spread across the keyboard gaining ever more in intensity until the insinuating announcement of the fugue with its fanfare flourishes of bravura and the very sombre ‘largamente’ announcement of the fugue subject.His wonderful sense of balance allowed for such clarity of line with cascades of embellishments as it built to the climax and the release of tension in the cadenza.The return of the opening melody was allowed to shine so beautifully through the magic cloud of sound that he had created and gradually built to the climax where the two main themes are united in a glorious outpouring of sounds ‘con molto fuoco’.There was great excitement too in the quiet build up to the final triumphant explosion.An aristocratic ending to a remarkable performance that in a bigger more resonant hall might have given more weight to Franck’s explosions of the glorious sounds of a true believer.
Kreisleriana is dedicated to Chopin who in return dedicated his second Ballade to Schumann.It’s eight episodes are full of romantic sweep and beauty and it needs a real artist to unite them in a whole.Benjamin Grosvenor gave it a great architectural shape whilst not sacrificing the exquisite details of each of the episodes.The opening was taken rather literally with accents that seemed to distort the natural shape of the music.It was,though,the central episode where his sense of style created a magic web of ravishing sounds.The extreme legato of the second episode was beautifully shaped and the two intermezzi in its midst were played with staccato contrast and romantic sweep.Schumann seems to struggle to find his way back to the main theme and it was played in a superbly improvisatory way before the final magical Adagio chords.Again I found rather too much contrast in the third episode between the clipped rhythmic momentum of the opening and the extreme legato of the intertwining melodic line which was played with a wonderful sense of style.There was great beauty too in the fourth with the languid melodic line of such beauty contrasting with the simplicity of the central ‘bewegter’.There was absolute clarity in the fifth with its quixotic sense of playfulness and with the sumptuous romantic fervour of the central climax.There was magic at the end of the beautifully mellifluous sixth episode as it exploded into the ‘sehr rasch’ of the seventh with its rhythmic energy and driving force.It was in these outbursts though that the sumptuous quieter tones hardened as the passion rose.The passionate outpouring of the central episode of the last piece,in particular,I was missing again the feeling of resonance of a sumptuous full orchestra instead of just the brass blaring in all its glory.The ‘schnell und spielend’ of Mendelssohnian lightness was superbly played and brought the work to a subtle finish as it disappeared into the depths of the keyboard.A remarkable performance where each of the magnificent players in Benjamin’s fingers did not always seem so happy to unite into one glorious whole but were happy to create seamless streams of romantic sounds with the delicacy from the Golden age of piano playing.