Poetic musicality - Benjamin Grosvenor plays Liszt in Rome

Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia conducted by Kent Nagano

Santa Cecilia Hall, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 6 December 2014

Meeting Benjamin Grosvenor in Rome
When, at the age of nineteen, the prodigiously talented British concert pianist Benjamin Grosvenor appeared at the First Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011, he was the youngest ever soloist to have performed at the event. The piece he chose to play on that occasion was Liszt's Concerto for Piano No. 2 in A major, and it was with this work that he made another début this past weekend, in his first collaboration with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome. I’ve enjoyed Grosvenor’s recent recordings enormously, so was thrilled by the prospect of finally seeing him play live, particularly under the baton of guest conductor Kent Nagano, who was last in Rome conducting another brilliant young pianist, Rafał Blechacz.

Salvatore Accardo once made a wonderful observation about Maurizio Pollini, commenting that he played not to demonstrate his own virtuosity, but to demonstrate the beauty of the music. I was reminded of those words on Saturday afternoon as I watched Benjamin Grosvenor on stage at the Auditorium. At only twenty-two his technical command of the keyboard is already formidable, but what really shone through during his performance of Liszt's Second Piano Concerto – ostensibly less of a showcase for flamboyant displays of virtuosity than his First Piano Concerto – was Grosvenor’s innate musicianship, and the grace and poetry he brought to the dialogues between the piano and the woodwinds and strings of the orchestra. His playing was a delight from start to finish. Grosvenor’s performance was short and sweet, however. Sadly, on Saturday afternoon the powers that be at the Auditorium prevented the pianist from performing an encore, much to the disappointment of the audience who had rewarded him with rapturous applause and numerous curtain calls. After such a tantalisingly brief, yet brilliant performance, I can’t wait to see him back in Rome again soon.

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to Kent Nagano’s exploration of musical Romanticism, with all three composers on the programme sharing an obsession with repeated musical motifs or rhythms, opening with Wagner’s Tannhäuser with its leitmotifs, through to the “idèe fixe” which permeates the Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. A hugely rewarding concert that closed to noisily appreciative cheers from the audience.

Full programme:
Ouvertüre und Venusberg aus Tannhäuser
Piano Concerto No 2 in A major
Symphonie Fantastique