Benjamin Grosvenor: Grieg

  • Thursday 25th February, 7.30pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Elgar  Falstaff , 35′
  • Grieg  Piano Concerto , 30′
  • Brahms  Symphony No. 3, 37′

Benjamin Grosvenor’s encore – Dohnányi – Capriccio Op.28 No.6
Benjamin Grosvenor’s playing has been called “a kind of miracle”, and last time he performed with the CBSO, this 23-year old British pianist held Symphony Hall spellbound. You’ve probably heard Grieg’s Piano Concerto before – but never quite like this! It’s the glowing heart of a concert that begins with Elgar’s colourful portrait of Shakespeare’s fat knight and ends in the romantic sunset of Brahms’s ardent Third Symphony..


Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “The young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor joined the orchestra for Grieg’s Piano Concerto. It’s easy to understand the work’s enduring popularity, not least because the thematic material is so memorable. I realised that it had been some time since I heard the work and I was glad of that because the work came up very freshly here. That said, I think it would have sounded fresh anyway; such was the nature of this performance. I’ve seem Jac van Steen conduct on several occasions in the past and one of many things that has impressed me is the clarity of his direction. Prior to this evening, however, I don’t recall that I’ve seen him conduct a concerto but that clarity was much in evidence and I’m sure it helped tremendously in shaping a keen and responsive account of the orchestral accompaniment.

Grosvenor himself was very impressive. In the first movement he proved himself well equipped for the bravura passages but I was even more taken with the poetry in his playing. The cadenza offered an excellent illustration of both facets. He began it with reflective musing and then gradually increased the power of his playing so that there was a sense of the heroic as the cadenza reached its climax. The lovely slow movement began with gorgeous string playing; the sound was velvety and deep. Grosvenor was delicate and pensive in the early pages of the movement and then later invested the music with plenty of romantic expression. There was fine energy in the dancing music with which the finale opens. Later that tune was gorgeously introduced by principal flute, Marie-Christine Zupancic, her tone making the music sound like a draught of clear spring water. When his turn with the tune arrived Grosvenor relished it, yet there was no self-indulgence to his playing. After a return to the energetic material the apotheosis of the Big Tune had suitable grandeur but was not overblown either by Grosvenor or his conductor.

Following this excellent performance I noticed that it was not just the audience who showed their appreciation: Jac van Steen and the CBSO applauded Grosvenor with genuine enthusiasm. He gave us short, dexterous encore”     …


Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “Especially welcome was the inclusion of Elgar’s symphonic study, Falstaff. Elgar was an admirer of Richard Strauss’ works, his tone poems in particular. When I hear Falstaff I can’t help but think of the similarities between the antics of Falstaff and Don Quixote from Strauss’ eponymous tone poem. In both works the protagonist is mostly represented on the cello and this is surely no coincidence. Elgar’s Falstaff is the more serious portly knight from Shakespeare’s Henry IV rather than the comical character featured in the The Merry Wives of Windsor. Though the composer denied overt programmatic content, the music is structured around various episodes featuring Sir John Falstaff and his companion, Prince Hal – heir to the throne.

Jac van Steen wasted no time in establishing Falstaff’s character in musical terms with a confident, swaggering start. It was a joy to see a conductor so very much at home with this orchestra and an orchestra so much at home in this repertoire. Various members of the orchestra excelled in bringing the cowardly knight to life, from a particularly throaty contrabassoon to rude-sounding horns. Later, in the Boar’s Head episode it wasn’t hard to imagine drunken goings on with cantankerous solos from the principal cellist and bassoonist. Van Steen paced the piece excitingly throughout, yet he still found time to appreciate these delicious details in the score.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto is so well known as a concert hall favourite and showpiece that it helps to be reminded what a rich and substantial piece of music it is. Benjamin Grosvenor dispatched those famous opening chords in a serious yet unpretentious manner that was to characterise his interpretation of the piece. After a buoyant orchestral introduction, Grosvenor was off like a rocket. This first movement was always mobile, never rhetorical in his hands. He is an especially attentive musician, always taking care to listen to players accompanying him in the orchestra.”     …



Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony

Thumbnail    Pure Emotion

Wednesday 12 March 2014 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Mikhail Tatarnikov  conductor

Peter Donohoe  piano

Mussorgsky: A Night on a Bare Mountain 12′

Dohnányi: Variations on a Nursery Song 25′

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 55′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Think   Russian and you think epic. Rachmaninov’s Second is exactly that: a symphony   as grand and expansive as Russia itself, full-to-overflowing with some of the   most gorgeous love music ever written. It could have been written for our guest   conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov. And Dohnányi’s delightful Variations on a Nursery   Tune could have been written for today’s soloist – because our latest rediscovery   from 1913 demands both spectacular artistry and a cheeky sense of humour. Peter   Donohoe has both!

“I love both Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 and Symphonic  Dances – come and hear some of the juiciest Cor Anglais parts in the repertoire!” (Rachael Pankhurst, Cor Anglais)

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Pictures at an Exhibition, Thursday   29 May

Thomas Adès: New Horizons, Wednesday   11 June

Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Thursday   19 June



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post: (for same programme – matinee)

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…     “This is a gem of a piece, once heard never forgotten. Throughout the variations the composer pays affectionate homage to so many near-contemporaries, Wagner, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Franck and Reger among them, all the while giving every player in a huge orchestra so much to reward them, and putting demands on the soloist which require awesome technique as well as wit and warmth.

And Peter Donohoe has these in spades. His pianism coruscated with rippling chords and figuration, and encompassed both the innocent as he unfolded the trite little “Twinkle, twinkle little star” tune after Dohnanyi’s massively imposing orchestral build-up, and the joyously collaborative: the way he waited an age to resume after the solo bassoon’s outrageously prolonged paused note near the end was a comedy to behold.”     …



Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     As I’d hoped and expected Donohoe was an ideal soloist. Tatarnikov set the scene well with a suitably dramatic and portentous unfolding of the big Introduction. The moment when the full orchestra breaks off and the soloist plays the Twinkle, twinkle, little star theme like a child’s five-finger exercise is still one of the best musical jokes, no matter how often one has heard it and it raised an audible laugh from the audience on this occasion. Having got that out of the way Donohoe proceeded to have fun! He brought virtuosity and humour to the performance and the orchestra backed him up splendidly with some razor-sharp playing. Among the moments that particularly stood out for me was the seventh variation, the waltz. If I remember correctly from when I took part in a performance many years ago, this variation is marked mit Schwung (‘with dash’); that’s how it came across here, with Tatarnikov getting the orchestra to inflect the waltz with fine sweep and vigour, matched by Donohoe. The enterprising colours of Dohnányi’s orchestration in the ninth variation – including growling bassoons and tinkling xylophone – were vividly achieved. The great passacaglia (Variation 10) was built impressively and then the concluding fugato was a delightful romp – not for the first time I was put in mind of Tom and Jerry by this music. Just before the end I really enjoyed the delightfully droll bassoon playing of Julian Roberts. This was a splendid and thoroughly enjoyable performance of this sparkling work: I hope we won’t have to wait 35 years to hear it again in Birmingham.”     …