Benjamin Grosvenor looks much less than his eighteen years, but he’s already come a very long way. After winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at eleven, he has built up a glittering career as both recitalist and concerto performer.
The Cd of piano music he has just released for an online music club – quirkily entitled ‘This and That’ - reflects a formidable technique, and the most subtle musicianship; he’s currently one of the brightest lights in the Royal Academy’s remarkable stable. He’s also just been drafted on to the BBC’s New Generation Artists scheme, and this concert of wall-to-wall Chopin was his first outing in that capacity.
Launching into the whirlwind Scherzo No 1, he was a bit hurried and anxious. All the notes were brilliantly there, but his fingers seemed to skate over the surface of the keys, rather than dig in: there is beauty to be savoured in every bar of these fleet figurations. But the light, singing touch he brought to the lyrical middle section was beguiling, as was the right-hand tracery in the C sharp minor Nocturne which followed. After making a virtue of the bare bleakness of the E minor Nocturne, he essayed the Barcarolle. And if this emerged as a water-colour, rather than the oil-painting it usually is, playing as precise and gossamer-light as his has a charm of its own. Then came another Scherzo, and another thought: when this recital is broadcast by Radio 3 on December 3, the intimacy of his sound may be brought into more satisfying close-up.
But what marked this recital out from all the other Chopin recitals in this centenary year was the clutch of rarities Grosvenor had unearthed. Some were occasional pieces of no great merit, others were surprising: the ‘Galop’ composed to celebrate George Sand’s dogs could have been by Beethoven.
But the impression we were left with was of the sweetest physical symbiosis between this player and his instrument. Grosvenor may not be a teenage Kissin, but he’s undoubtedly a major pianist in the making. Now he needs to discover the paradoxical truth that one can actually sound faster by playing a bit slower. And he must really dig into those keys, to conjure up a sense of amplitude.