Presto News - 11th August 2014
Benjamin Grosvenor - Dances
The young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is that comparatively rare thing, an erstwhile child prodigy who has developed into an artist of serious integrity and originality under his own steam and been allowed to remain relatively out of the spotlight whilst doing so. The grainy YouTube footage of him stunning the BBC Young Musician of the Year jury in 2004 with a supremely sassy, bluesy account of the Ravel Piano Concerto, despite being almost too small to reach the pedals, remains quite astonishing a decade later. He was only 11 at the time. Ten years on, his latest solo disc, Dances, is so mesmerising from the opening bars that it had me glued to my desk for three hours whilst I listened on loop, eagerly conscripting my various colleagues as they returned from lunch and meetings.
Still just 22 (and two years into a solo recording contract with Decca), Grosvenor plays with a conviction, authority and imagination which is almost uncanny in such a young artist, and which is all the more striking when contrasted with the unworldly, bashful manner which comes across in interviews. One of the most jaw-dropping (and moving) live performances I’ve witnessed in recent years occurred back in 2012, when Grosvenor was awarded the Young Artist of the Year prize at the Gramophone Awards: having already won the pre-announced Instrumental Category and accepted the award with a nervy prepared speech, the young pianist was visibly taken aback to receive an unexpected second honour and haltingly informed his audience that he wasn’t up to improvising another speech. Instead, he wandered over to the piano next to the stage and stunned the assembled company with an uproarious, virtuosic two-minute showpiece which owed not a little to Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire and Liberace, and which brought the entire audience to their feet as the room erupted with roars of applause not often heard at such events. Job done, Grosvenor bowed diffidently and scuttled straight back to his seat, his self-effacing manner the polar opposite of the extrovert, assured display we’d just witnessed. The work in question, Morton Gould’s Boogie—Woogie Etude, provides a delightfully unbuttoned, exuberant coda to a disc which I’m certain will garner a slew of award nominations and crop up on many Discs of the Year features some four months hence – it’ll certainly be heading up mine.
Spanning Bach and Gould (and taking in Chopin, Granados, Scriabin, and Albeniz along the way), Dances is based on a programme which Grosvenor performed for his Southbank Centre debut in 2012 to great acclaim: whether in sarabandes, gigues, tangos or waltzes, his playing exudes a buoyance and clarity which really does dance. Everything is consummately classy and eloquent, but nothing is cerebral or micro-managed (as some slight criticisms of that 2012 recital suggested) – and whilst Grosvenor seems incapable of showboating or otherwise indulging in the flashy gestures of some of his contemporaries, he’s never shy of unleashing the big guns when the music calls for it (for instance in the Chopin Grand Polonaise brillante, and some of the Scriabin mazurkas) or of embracing the sugar-plum schmaltz of Adolf Schulz-Evler’s transcription of the Blue Danube Waltzes.
This is an awe-inspiring, simply joyous programme which is much more than a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (though it is that too): Grosvenor is already a supremely confident, individual musician with technique to burn and plenty to say, though he never gets in the way of the music. Mark my words, this one will be garlanded with awards in the coming months – and, more importantly, will bring countless hours of pleasure.
Benjamin Grosvenor : Dances
Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
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Presto Recommends – Maurice Ravel
This week James picks out some of the best recordings of the French composer Maurice Ravel. Most famous for his hypnotic Boléro, Ravel was a notorious perfectionist (accounting for his relatively small output), and his works clearly show this minute attention to detail.
His orchestration, in particular, has been held up as a model of originality, and it's clear from his Ma Mère l'Oye, as well as his arrangement for orchestra of Mussorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition, that he had a real genius for instrumental colour.
You can read through James's Ravel choices here.
Presto CD – More Gramophone Award and Rosette winners
The latest batch of our Manufacture on Demand series, bringing back some more award-winning discs including Paul McCreesh's groundbreaking Venetian Vespers (a milestone in the early music movement), Wilhelm Kempf's Beethoven Piano Concertos from 1953 and the Tokyo String Quartet's Bartók set.
Katherine Cooper - email@example.com
11th August 2014
Brahms Beloved Volume 2
Wolfgang Holzmair (tenor) & Dame Felicity Lott (soprano), Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, John Axelrod
This is the second and final volume of ‘Brahms Beloved’, in which conductor John Axelrod pairs the Brahms Symphonies (in this set, the First and the Third) with songs by his muse, Clara Schumann. The orchestra is again the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, of which John Axelrod is Principal Conductor, and Axelrod once more does double duty as conductor and pianist.
Buxtehude - Vocal Works 9
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Amsterdam Baroque Choir, Ton Koopman
This is the 19th and penultimate volume in a highly acclaimed survey of the complete works of Dieterich Buxtehude by the renowned early music director Ton Koopman and the musicians and singers of Amsterdam Baroque. It is the ninth release devoted to the composer’s vocal works, and features compositions which are not linked to the liturgical service and are consequently extremely free and innovative in form and content.
Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto No. 3 & Symphony No. 3
Alexandre Da Costa (violin), Oviedo Filarmonía, Marzio Conti
Canadian violinist Alexandre Da Costa was a prodigious talent on the violin and piano, and after obtaining at the age of 18 a Master’s Degree and First Prize from the Conservatoire de Musique du Québec, he continued his studies with Zakhar Bron. The many prizes he has won include a Juno Award in 2012, the Sylva Gelber Foundation Award from the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Virginia-Parker Prize, one of Canada’s highest cultural distinctions.
Viktor Ullmann: The Complete Works for Piano Solo
Christophe Sirodeau (piano)
In the booklet notes, Sirodeau explains his aim in making this recording: ‘Viktor Ullmann should be studied and played not as a victim of the Nazis but on his own merits, which in my opinion earn him an illustrious place in twentieth-century music.’ Although the release of this two-cd set of Ullmann’s complete piano music coincides with the 70th anniversary of the composer’s death, it is thus rather intended as a celebration of his life.
Jonathan Dove: All You Who Sleep Tonight: Song Cycles
Claire Booth (soprano), Patricia Bardon (mezzo-soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor) & Andrew Matthews-Owen (piano)
Jonathan Dove is one of Britain’s most resourceful and versatile contemporary composers. Cut My Shadow is a powerful and harrowing setting of three Lorca texts notable for a sense of constant unease and longing for a homeland. All You Who Sleep Tonight, to poems by Vikram Seth, is elegant, moving, and witty whilst Ariel explores Shakespeare’s elusive character from The Tempest in a rôle for unaccompanied soprano.
Great Piano Recordings
Glenn Gould, Sviatoslav Richter, Evgeny Kissin, Emanuel Ax, John Ogdon, Martha Argerich and others
This 30-CD set from Sony is a special selection of the most outstanding and bestselling albums by leading pianists of the 20th and 21st century. Includes Rubinstein, Horowitz, Gould, Perahia, Kissin, Volodos, Richter, Serkin, Gilels and many more.
Rameau: Les Indes galantes, Castor & Pollux
Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Jean-Philippe Rameau owes some of his current popularity to the passionate advocacy of William Christie: this sumptuous box set presents the critically-acclaimed Rameau recordings he made for Harmonia Mundi in the 1980s and 1990s. Its selection of opéra-ballet, tragédie lyrique and harpsichord pieces on 10 CDs, many unavailable for some time, highlights the multiple facets of Rameau's oeuvre.
Spontini: La Fuga In Maschera (DVD)
Ruth Rosique, Caterina Di Tonno, Alessandra Marianelli, Clemente Paliotti, Filippo Morace, Alessandro Spina & Dionigi D’Ostuni, I Virtuosi Italiani, Corrado Rovaris
Once known for his stately grand operas, Gaspare Spontini posthumously surprised posterity with a light-hearted “commedia per musica” that was found at an antiquarian book dealer in England in 2006 and performed for the first time since 1800 at the Festival Pergolesi e Spontini in Jesi, Italy. With its motoric ensembles, intensifying rhythmic repetitions, and imaginative play with word fragments, La fuga in maschera anticipates Rossini at his best.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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