Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto received a superb performance by Benjamin Grosvenor and the Oregon Symphony (January 25) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The young Brit (age 27) has earned accolades internationally, and they are absolutely well-founded. His playing of the Chopin featured a terrific sonic balance with the leading line always in the forefront, but never too much or too little. Runs up and down the keyboard had a natural flow and the trickiest passages were delivered immaculately.
Grosvenor’s unaffected, graceful style and awesome pianism especially conveyed the poetic heart of the piece in the second movement, Larghetto. Principal bassoonist Carin Miller Packwood used the softest of tones to create some remarkable duets with him. Guest conductor Eun Sun Kim, who is the newly appointed music director of the San Francisco Opera, took extra care to be in sync with Grosvenor at all times.
Enthusiastic applause showered the concert hall, and Grosvenor responded an immaculate rendition of Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 5 even though his fingers seemed to be constantly flying across the keyboard. That earned him another round of cheers from all corners of the hall.
The performance of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 sparkled now and then, but wasn’t totally compelling. Kim kept everything on track and impressively signaled a lot of cues, but she showed a limited range of conducting styles. So, dynamic contrasts made the piece less exciting than it could have been. Be that as it may, there were a number of lovely solos by members of the orchestra, including concertmaster Sarah Kwa, John Cox (French horn), and Alicia DiDonato Paulson (flute).
Texu Kim’s Spin-Flip suggested an imaginary ping pong game complete with zings, slaps, knocks, taps, and whacks that ricocheted about the orchestra. The wah-wahing brass seemed to mimic the noise of onlookers. It was a fun, short piece that held court with a bit of tension, a well-placed pause in the action, and a suspended spinning sound at the very end.