review details
 •  22 May 2009 - Waterfront Hall, Belfast
Ulster Orchestra

Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances, Grieg Piano Concerto (Benjamin Grosvenor, soloist) & Ravel Boléro

  • Soloist's stunning conclusion to season

    The Ulster Orchestral final concert of the season featured one of the most impressive young soloists in a year that has been unusually rich in virtuosi.


    Benjamin Grosvenor, who is still only 16, brought a remarkable panache and passion, allied to remarkable technical skill, to Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor.


    This sometimes hackneyed piece, which somehow survived the hilarious Eric Morecambe and Andre Previn 'interpretation' so long ago, seemed fresh and refreshing in this performance by Grosvenor and the Ulster Orchestra, under the baton of its principal conductor Kenneth Montgomery.


    The soloist received a rapturous reception which he generously acknowledged with a stunning encore. The first half was taken up by Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances which he completed not long before he died.

    This complex piece had all the lyricism and fire associated with this most 'romantic' Russian, and there were moments of great lyricism, particularly in the second movement, before Rachmaninov, typically, bade his farewell with a blaze of sound.

    The final item was Ravel's over-familiar Bolero. However with Montgomery's steady approach and some virtuoso playing, the Bolero had its own hypnotic effect, and it brought another impressive season to a triumphant conclusion.

    Alf McCreary, Belfast Telegraph, 23/5/09

  • The young hopefuls have been and gone. The piano marathon that is the Dublin International Piano Competition has played itself out and declared its winner. An older international brigade is on the way. Before the month is out there will have been concerts featuring Boris Berezovsky, Nikolai Demidenko and Elisabeth Leonskaja, to show a different way of doing things. And from a different angle, here was English pianist Benjamin Grosvenor with the Ulster Orchestra.

    Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of Grosvenor. He's still in his teens, and made his biggest media splash by winning the keyboard section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at the age of 11 in 2004. He's still in full-time education, and restricts himself to a limited schedule of concerts.

    He responded to a 2005 article about him in the Times in London with a letter to the editor, stating: "The article about me seemed to suggest that I was under terrible pressure. I actually enjoy practising the piano and I love to perform in concerts. I never practise for more than two hours without a break and there are plenty of boys at my school who spend as long playing computer games as I spend practising."

    In this concert, his performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto would actually place him closer to the older brigade than to the flashy youngsters of the competition. It wasn't a matter of technique (though a high-jinks encore showed he can dazzle with the best), but rather that his response to the music seemed so natural, so free, so unencumbered. The forced brightness of tone favoured by so many young lions of the keyboard was entirely absent. He brought real freshness to the Grieg, from the impetuous opening to the soulfulness of the slow movement to the sparky finale. Conductor Kenneth Montgomery partnered him sensitively, though he didn't always manage to anticipate all of the pianist's exuberant surges.

    The programme was most unusually structured, placing the concerto after, rather than before, the interval. In the first half, Montgomery delivered Rachmaninov's last completed work, the Symphonic Dances of 1940, with often chunky brashness. He took a much more refined approach to Ravel's Bolero, and his steady-as-she-goes approach resulted in a performance that persuasively accumulated explosive power.

    Michael Dervan, Irish Times, 22/5/09

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