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Classic 107 - Winnipeg chats with Benjamin Grosvenor about Liszt

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Classic 107 - Winnipeg CAN Host Chris Wolf had the opportunity to Zoom chat with world renowned pianist Benjamin Grosvenor about his latest recording. A recoding featuring the music of Liszt.

The English pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is one of today's most sought after pianists. Ever since winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year at the age of 12 in 2004, Grosvenor has developed an International career that has seen him perform with the world's top Orchestras and make several award winning recordings on the Decca Record label.

Benjamin Grosvenor's latest release that comes today, February 19, 2021 features the music of Liszt…and not just any Liszt! Grosvenor has recorded some of the most difficult and monumental music that Liszt ever composed:

Piano Sonata in B minor, S. 178

Berceuse, S. 174ii

Tre sonetti di Petrarca, S. 161/4-6

Réminiscences de Norma, S. 394 (after Bellini)

Ave Maria, S. 558/12 (after Schubert)

When asked why Grosvenor chose to record the music of Liszt Grosvenor says "He had so many sides to him as a person but also as a musician…some composers I suppose, if you were to devote and entire disc to them you might worry about a lack of variety, but with Liszt and his compositional output, there's such a lot of variety and there is also the fact he was such an incredible transcriber of other people's music. He had amazing gifts in taking a whole opera and summarizing it in to a paraphrase of 15 minutes."

What Grosvenor is referring to is his recording of the Reminiscences de Norma (after Bellini) that can be found on this latest disc. A piece that demands that the pianist is totally secure in his technique, and also that he has a clear idea of the narrative that Liszt is trying to get across in the music. Grosvenor succeeds in spades on both counts!

The centre-piece of his latest recording is the vast and expansive Liszt B minor sonata. This is a sonata that would send lesser mortal pianists running for the exit due to its technical requirements, intense interpretive demands, and need for sheer endurance needed by the pianist. The piece is in one large chunk that lasts roughly 30 minutes. As Grosvenor says "It's a piece to be consumed in its entirety" And what a feast! Grosvenor has shown that he is clearly up to the task. He has made a recording that is 30 minutes of sheer delight. The interpretation is engaging, and interesting; this combined with Grosvenor's technical perfection and innate ability to sing through the piano make this truly a musical banquet; complete with sides, tea and fine French pastries.

"It's an extraordinary journey filled with so many different emotions…throughout there is this kind of contrast between the divine and the diabolical," says Grosvenor. "There is this sort of devilish element which he sets out in the characters that we hear on the very first page...In terms of the structure, the whole piece is developed from material we hear in the first minute of the piece."

Throughout so many of his recordings and performances Benjamin Grosvenor has proven himself to be a master of lyricism and the ability to change tonal colors at the drop of a hat, as the music requires. This element of Grosvenor's playing comes shining through in his interpretations of the three Petracha Sonettos that come from Liszt's 2nd Book of Years of Pilgrimage. These pieces can also be found on the disc. "They are intimate works, they are inspired by poems of the 14th century poet Petrach," Grosvenor says. "They are all love poems essentially, and Liszt picks three that offer three contrasting visions of love." Here again Benjamin Grosvenor manages to bring out the tenderness and also the dramatic aspects of these three pieces.

This latest recording of the music of Liszt marks not only his latest triumph on record, but it also marks Grosvenor's renewal of his contract with Decca Records. "It's great to be continuing my partnership with them. I've recorded for Decca for ten years now, I signed when I was 18. I hope there will be many more years to come, and I look forward to the next few discs we have with this contract."

For us as listeners let's hope the partnership Grosvenor has with Decca is long and fruitful, because if this if this latest disc is anything to go by, it is going to fantastic partnership!

If you missed Chris Wolf's conversation with Benjamin Grosvenor, you can see the entire Zoom conversation here: