RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
‘Grosvenor is a master of the sung line, and the way he deals with Chopin’s ornamentation has a rare inevitability about it’
Harriet Smith hails Benjamin Grosvenor’s colourful and refined pianism in Chopin’s piano concertos, and his superb partnership with the conductor Elim Chan
Chopin Piano Concertos – No 1, Op 11; No 2, Op 21 Benjamin Grosvenor pf Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Elim Chan Decca F 485 0365 (71’ • DDD)
I haven’t been this struck by the orchestral expositions to Chopin’s concertos since Jun Märkl with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra for Ingrid Fliter. Now in the company of another Scottish orchestra, the RSNO, Elim Chan makes equally bold decisions about how the music should go. It’s easy to understand why they appointed her Principal Guest Conductor in 2018 after she’d stood in for an indisposed Neeme Järvi the previous year.
In the E minor First Concerto’s opening exposition the mere fact of having a symphony rather than chamber orchestra gives it a natural weight, and into the mix Elim Chan injects not only a passionate urgency but also a bounce to the rhythms. Suddenly you’re aware that this concerto comes out of a Beethovenian tradition, a quality emphasised in the lyrical second theme which here has a straightforwardly Classical underlying pulse, with none of the rubato that can over-romanticise it. The flute melody here is certainly not underpowered but it emerges naturally, and the brass are full of character.
It’s all a world away from Zimerman’s dangerously drawn-out view of the movement. What’s also abundantly apparent throughout these performances is that the orchestral musicians are galvanised by Chan – not always a given in these concertos. When Benjamin Grosvenor finally makes his first entrance, it proves well worth the wait, and his playing beguiles from the off; as the dynamics sink, his lines are full of poetry but they unfold with utter naturalness. Chan follows his every gesture unerringly – there’s no doubting the musical chemistry at play here. And that brings me to another point: Grosvenor has always balanced his solo career with chamber music-making and it really shows – just sample the way he duets so subtly with the bassoon (track 1, from 10'32"). But he’s not afraid to command the stage either – the upward scales in thirds and sixths (from 11'26") have a feisty brilliance to them. Even the points that can sound like mere passagework in some performances are lovingly brought alive, Grosvenor constantly recolouring the lines or reweighting the textures with endless imagination. PHO T O G R A P H Y
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8 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2020