Rhapsody in Blue - Benjamin Grosvenor Releases His First Concerto Album
When Benjamin Grosvenor, the brilliant young British 'master pianist' (Gramophone), released his Decca Classics debut album last year, Classic FM Magazine awarded it five stars, hailing his solo recital of works by Chopin, Liszt and Ravel as 'an outstanding first release ... which sets the musical bar at such a high level one can hardly wait to hear what he has in store for us next'.
The answer? Grosvenor's first concerto album, coupling Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major and Saint-Saëns's Piano Concerto No. 2 with Gershwin's ever-popular Rhapsody in Blue (all with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under James Judd). As an extra treat, each of these three main works is followed by an instant "encore" in the form of a short piano solo by the same composer.
Released in the UK on 13 August (with an international release scheduled for 2013), just a few weeks after the former child prodigy's twentieth birthday - and the day before he returns to the BBC Proms to perform the CD's opening work, Saint-Saëns's Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Charles Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) - the new album rounds off an extraordinary twelve months in Benjamin Grosvenor's already meteoric career.
The three principal works that Benjamin Grosvenor has chosen for his first concerto album complement each other perfectly. The urbane charm and dazzling virtuosity of Saint-Saëns lead naturally on to the brittle brilliance and dry wit of his fellow Frenchman Ravel. Ravel's distinctly jazzy G major Concerto was written soon after he'd met Gershwin, and just a few years after the great Broadway songsmith had so spectacularly gatecrashed his way into the classical world with his syncopated, note-bending Rhapsody in Blue.
'Rhapsody in Blue needs neither verbal advocacy nor apology from me', says Benjamin Grosvenor. 'It's simply a work of rapturous inventiveness - a sort of ‘musical kaleidoscope of America', as Gershwin himself called it.' In his new recording, Benjamin Grosvenor puts aside the large and less wieldy symphonic version in favour of the original jazz-band arrangement that Ferde Grofé made for the work's 1924 premiere, given by Gershwin himself with the Paul Whiteman Band. 'It's a more intimate version', says Grosvenor, 'very colourful and extremely interesting - it even includes a banjo, which adds a unique sound.'
As for the two French concertos, they're very much part of a personal crusade: 'I've often felt that the French piano repertoire is underrated or that it's judged as no more than opulent mood-music or ‘pictures in sound', but I've adored the Ravel and Saint-Saëns concertos from the first time I heard them.'
The album also features Benjamin Grosvenor playing three solo 'encores', one from each composer represented. For Saint-Saëns, he's chosen Leopold Godowsky's 'deliciously free' transcription of 'The Swan', the famous cello solo from The Carnival of the Animals. Ravel is represented by a brief Prélude that he wrote in 1913 as a sight-reading test for students at the Paris Conservatoire. And, to end the CD, there's Gershwin's immortal song 'Love Walked In' in a piano transcription by his friend, the eccentric and eclectic Australian-born pianist-composer Percy Grainger, who created it specifically to serve as an encore for his own performances of Gershwin's Piano Concerto and Rhapsody in Blue'