Impressive Variety and Artistry in Recitals by Perianes and Grosvenor

CanadaCanada Schubert, Debussy, Albéniz, de Falla: Javier Perianes (piano), Vancouver Playhouse, Vancouver, 4.5.2017. (GN)

Schubert – Piano Sonata in A major D.664; Drei Klavierstücke D.946 
de Falla
– Six pieces from El Amor Brujo; Homenaje pour ‘Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy’
Debussy – ‘La Soirée de Grenade’ from Estampes; Two Preludes
Albéniz – ‘El Albayzin’ from Iberia

Schumann, Mozart, Beethoven, Scriabin, Granados, Liszt: Benjamin Grosvenor (piano), Chan Centre, Vancouver, 7.5.2017. (GN)

Benjamin Grosvenor

Mozart – Sonata in B-flat major K.333
Beethoven – Sonata in C-sharp minor, Op.27 No.2 ‘Moonlight’
Scriabin – Sonata No.2 in G-sharp minor Op.19
Granados – Two pieces from Goyescas
LisztRhapsodie espagnole S.254

There couldn’t have been a happier way to close the Vancouver Recital Society’s season than with appearances by the youthful Spaniard Javier Perianes and Benjamin Grosvenor, the still precociously young British ‘darling’. Both pianists gave their third concert here, and each has just released a new album: the former, a Schubert sonata recital for Harmonia Mundi; the latter, an album of enticingly-contrasted pieces called ‘Hommage’ for Decca. The two recitals offered a study in different styles of pianism, but it goes without saying that both artists exhibited exalted keyboard command, with many moments to cherish.

The second half of the Perianes recital – featuring Spanish pieces with a Grenada theme – was probably the most riveting of all. The pianist literally left the audience gasping for breath with his wonderfully rich tone, architectural sense and penchant for rustic colour. The natural rubato in ‘El Albayzin’ from Albéniz’ Iberia and de Falla’s 6 pieces from El Amor Brujo was disarming, coaxing all the Spanish ‘spirits’ out of the music with ravishing pianissimos while finding a wonderful degree of anticipation in the music’s motion. Perianes demonstrated his mastery of shifting moods and colours, giving full vent to the alternating moments of sensuality, caprice and relaxation. His playing was remarkably fresh, and charmed by delicious rhythmic spring and tonal beauty. The approach also worked very well in Debussy’s ‘La Soirée de Grenade’ from Estampes and in the two related Preludes. Perianes’ sense of discipline and structure were unerring and the tangibility of feeling he unearthed was captivating.

It is some distance to Schubert’s Drei Klavierstücke D.946 and the A-major Sonata D.664, and here I did not think Perianes’ colour and keyboard strength fit as naturally. The Klavierstücke were impressive from a structural/dramatic standpoint – these works can stand ‘big’ treatment – but Perianes’ rustic interpretation of Schubert’s musings struck me as little off. The composer’s lyrical response is not exactly ‘folk’ in character, but more intimate and personal. Nonetheless, it was interesting to hear Schubert’s more songful expressions as if wafting pleasurably through small village squares. There was lots of energy and tempestuousness – and enviable keyboard control – to carry things through, and some of the more vibrant rhythmic articulation had me thinking of the dance. The lovely opening movement of the A-major Sonata had an athletic feel, buoyantly projected with a fine sweep, but again intimacy and tenderness were not its strong suit.  Both here and in the following Andante the music was moved forward through strong dynamic contrasts (some of the playing was very soft) and a sense of ‘folk’ colour, but not by those subtle inflections within a phrase that allow us to glimpse the innocent vulnerability of the composer. There was still ample feeling and architecture throughout, especially in the slow movement, even if the pianist sought larger and more generalized emotional contours than ideal. Enjoyable on its own terms, but unmistakably a young man’s Schubert.

Benjamin Grosvenor also strikes the keys with an enviable touch and solidity, bringing striking clarity and evenness to his runs while opening out to the firmest expressions at the bottom of the instrument. This is a very beautiful sound which walks arm-in-arm with pristine delineation. Grosvenor’s sense of structure is notable: he almost divides each work into ‘blocks’ and then chisels out each with a myriad of discerning tonal weights and projections. The result is very exacting, tight-knit pianism, perhaps driven more by ‘the notes’ than a long lyrical arch but always building an organic sense of motion and cohesion.

The real winner in this recital was Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat major, which revealed the best control at a smaller scale that I have yet seen from the pianist. There wasn’t anything meek about the opening Allegro, which moved the music forward strongly with tight phrases and a sharp angularity that fleetingly took me back to Lili Kraus. In the Andante, it was the pianist’s sense of complete involvement, combined with his musical shape and detailing, that really won me over, and he followed this up with a finale of great concentration, balance and refined feeling.

Grosvenor’s treatment of Schumann’s Arabesque was also noteworthy for the symmetry and consistency of his phrasing, which gave this short piece a nicely-jeweled cohesion. I was less convinced by the Beethoven ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. While there is now a trend towards treating the famous Adagio more quickly, the pianist’s serenade-like tempo did not fully take me to a feeling of consuming stillness, beautifully as it moved forth. The shaping and rhythmic point of the Allegretto also seemed more in the style of the Schumann we had just heard, while the finale was projected at a much larger scale – a stunning mixture of power and motion. I did not feel that everything was cut from the same cloth.

The second half of this recital exhibited just how much control Grosvenor now has over the instrument. His reading of Scriabin’s short Sonata No.2 was both poised and powerfully structured though coming up slightly short of the composer’s full passionate flame. The two pieces from Granados’ Goyescas tied nicely to the spirit of Perianes’ recital, and illustrated the sculpted elegance and ‘fineness’ of tonal control within Grosvenor’s arsenal. The pianist was most successful in articulating the music’s variety and motion without perhaps finding all Perianes’ natural flexibility and colour. Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole was the brilliant tour-de-force, revealing the pianist’s sterling talent in combining agility and commanding tonal strength, giving the work real character.

This was, by a good margin, the best recital I have seen from Benjamin Grosvenor, who showed a substantially greater range of insight, stylistic penetration and tonal control. I still think he proceeds a little too much in ‘blocks’ and structural delineation – as finely chiseled and integrated as everything is – but I am certain a greater lyrical freedom is just around the corner. On the other hand, with Javier Perianes, it is rare to find a young pianist with such a penetrating sense of atmosphere and colour. It would be difficult to hear two back-to-back recitals more inspiring than these.

Geoffrey Newman

Previously published in a slightly different form on

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