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Liszt: Sonata in B minor, etc

Benjamin Grosvenor (piano) (Decca)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Piano Sonata in B minor; Années de pèlerinage II – Sonnettos Nos 47, 104 & 123; Berceuse; Réminiscences de Norma; Zwölf Lieder von Franz Schubert – Ave Maria
Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
Decca 485 1450   84:29 mins

Even on a modern concert grand, with its built-in capacity for maximum brilliance, Benjamin Grosvenor conjures a brand of full and rounded keyboard sonority different from that of many of his contemporaries, and recalls the giants of an earlier generation (Busoni, for instance, or Josef Lhévinne). Also we know that Liszt insisted on his pupils finding this kind of mellow tone, especially in the piano’s top register. Perhaps this is why Grosvenor’s interpretations seem to take us close to the essence of the music itself, and to the legendary playing style it sprang from.

The B minor Sonata’s single-movement span combines big-scale design and the composer’s off-the-wall improvisatory streak: Grosvenor does remarkable justice to both aspects, and his delivery of those terse bass-register octaves in the opening bars is a masterclass in how to grip attention without exaggerating the point. He offers beautifully sustained lyrical line in the rarely heard Berceuse and the three Petrarch Sonnets, and then has the rampant virtuosity of the Norma fantasy sounding both coherent and convincing. Liszt here took a symphonically developed approach to his choice of ideas from Bellini’s opera; the music would have felt less overwritten on the kind of 1840s instrument for which it was devised, and again Grosvenor brilliantly recreates the idiom in those terms. Gorgeous playing of the Ave Maria transcription rounds out a generously filled programme.


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Malcolm Hayes