Wednesday 5 October 2022

KALEIDOSCOPIC / INSPIRED BY LISZT / Benjamin Grosvenor & Hyeyoon Park / Review


Hyeyoon Park, Violin

Benjamin Grosvenor, Piano

Victoria Concert Hall

Sunday (25 September 2022)



Benjamin Grosvenor, Piano

Victoria Concert Hall

Tuesday (27 September 2022)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 October 2022 with the title "Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor easily shifts gears from accompanist to soloist".


Concert-goers in Singapore were fortunate to have had two of United Kingdom’s greatest pianists performing at Victoria Concert Hall within the same month. A few weeks ago, Stephen Hough gave a solo recital and performed a concerto, and the last week saw Benjamin Grosvenor partnering prize-winning Korean violinist Hyeyoon Park in concert, besides a solo recital of his own.


The embarrassment of riches began with Sunday afternoon’s recital, which opened with Mozart’s Violin Sonata No.24 in F major (K.376). Lest one thought all Mozart sonatas favoured the piano, this one had both instruments as equal partners. Park, with her sweet and capacious tone, served well the music’s simple charm and flowing melodies, complemented by Grosvenor’s sensitive and steadfast keyboard support. The finale had the lightness of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, bringing out plentiful good humour.


Photo: Ung Ruey Loon

What followed were three diverse 20th century works. Very brief, atonal and aphoristic, Anton Webern’s Four Pieces (Op.7) explored new worlds of shade and texture. This shock to the system was contrasted with the lyricism of Debussy’s late Violin Sonata, which shunned impressionism and going back to the ancient roots of French music.


Midway through its second movement, a violin tuning peg had gotten loose, necessitating a restart. Shrugging off the mishap, the duo retuned and completed the work with a tour de force display. Just as eventful was Bartok’s Rhapsody No.1, strongly influenced by Hungarian folk and dance music. The Magyar strutting and swagger of its opening soon gave way to unbuttoned exuberance of gypsy fiddling, gripping as it was intoxicating.  


Completing the evening was Schubert’s Fantasy in C major (D.934), a substantial virtuoso work of Biedermeier beauty longer than all of his violin sonatas and piano fantasies. Within its heart is a lovely set of variations on Schubert’s own lied Sei Mir Gegrusst (I Greet Thee), played with a love that transcends all, before closing with with the happiest of affirmations. The vociferous applause yielded two lovely encores, Schumann’s sublime Abendlied and the rarely-heard Rachmaninov Hungarian Dance (Op.6 No.2), which brought down the house.


Photo: Ung Ruey Loon

Impressive as a collaborative pianist, Grosvenor was however a law onto his own in solo piano music on Tuesday evening. A change in programme saw Cesar Franck’s Prelude, Chorale & Fugue open his solo recital, a work of quasi-religious inspiration which illuminated like a cathedral of sonority. Widely spread chords and repeated figurations reminded listeners of organ music, and Grosvenor’s sheer clarity in multiple contrapuntal lines were vital in keeping its spirit alive.

Photo: Ung Ruey Loon


In the same key of B minor was the Liszt Sonata, a most logical follow-up. Again, his cognizance of recurring themes and overall architecture built this monumental half-hour edifice arch-by-arch through prayerful moments and shattering climaxes. The severe technical challenges were taken in stride, and seldom has both cerebral and visceral faculties been equally aroused.


Colour ruled the recital’s second half, beginning with Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz’s First Book from Iberia, three tonal portraits of his homeland. The allure of folk music was relived in the dreamy Evocacion, contrasted with the ebullient dance of El Puerto, before culminating in the rowdy Corpus Christi procession in Festival Day In Seville.


Photo: Ung Ruey Loon

Grosvenor’s ability to shift gears became all the more admirable in Ravel’s impressionistic water piece Jeux d’eau (Fountains) before launching into the freewheeling mayhem of La Valse. Here was a depiction of a Viennese waltz gone awry, as a world plunged inexorably into war and carnage. With Grosvenor at the helm, there could not have been a more exhilarating ride.


Buoyed by loud cheers, his encores of two of Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera’s Argentinian Dances, portraits of a graceful maiden and outlaw cowboy, were enthusiastically accepted.


Photo: Ung Ruey Loon

Benjamin Grosvenor and Hyeyoon Park 

were presented by Altenburg Arts.


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