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Review: Prom 29: BBC Philharmonic/Noseda: Royal Albert Hall, London 4/5

August 11, 2014

George Hall

In his Proms appearance with the BBC Philharmonic under the Manchester orchestra's conductor laureate, Gianandrea Noseda, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor offered the audience not one concerto but two. In the first half came Chopin's First Piano Concerto - a substantial assignment in its own right; then, following the interval, he was the soloist in a one-time Proms favourite that for some inexplicable reason is a rarity these days: Cesar Franck's Symphonic Variations.

He brought the same qualities to both. Technically, his playing was utterly assured, with an easy confidence to his delivery of even the fastest and most tricky passages. But virtuosity never came at the expense of musicality, with melodies nicely profiled throughout. Grosvenor is still only 22, but these appreciable performances confirmed his already remarkable achievements.

If the Franck was a once-familiar piece making a welcome comeback, Alfredo Casella's Elegia Eroica, which opened the programme, was entirely new to the Proms. One of a generation of notable Italian composers born in the 1880s - Respighi, Pizzetti and Malipiero were among his closest contemporaries - Casella is scarcely heard in UK concert halls. Written in 1916 in memory of an unknown Italian soldier, this particular piece began as an angry, rather crude statement, though in its later, lullaby-like inflections it became more memorable and surprisingly touching.

Noseda closed the concert with a grandiose French warhorse, Saint-Saens' rumbustious Third Symphony. With the unstinting help of solo organist David Goode, the finale threatened to lift the Albert Hall roof off.

George Hall

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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