What Andy Murray is to Wimbledon, Benjamin Grosvenor is to pianism: a bright young British hope. He’s come a long way in his 18 years, with a precocious win in the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award being one of the milestones.
He may still be a student at the Royal Academy, but he’s now approaching lift-off. Decca are about to release his debut disc, and on July 15 he will become the youngest-ever soloist in the history of the Proms, when he plays Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto on the opening night.
This Wigmore recital was a taster - but one demanding close attention, as it showed him in a variety of modes. A pair of Scarlatti sonatas made the ideal opener: the writing in the D major sonata Kk96 is symphonic in its splendour, while the D minor Kk434 could almost have been by Chopin. Grosvenor’s one weakness when I heard him last year was a tendency to skate over the keys, rather than digging in: his bounding exuberance with the first sonata suggested that problem is now sorted, and he infused a lovely tenderness into the legato lines of the second.
Then came some ‘Cancons i danses’ by Federico Mompou, miniatures whose poetry he extracted with an unusually sure touch. The songs and dances were Catalan, but the final one had such flamboyance that it made the perfect bridge to the showy Albeniz which followed. ‘Iberia Book 1’ begins with a heavy, sun-drenched languor, moves into a quick ‘polo’ dance, and then catches fire with an evocation of the Corpus Christi celebration in Seville. Grosvenor scrupulously honoured the composer’s markings, and when major virtuosity was called for he delivered it with seeming effortlessness. The piece would have been more dramatic with a sense of distance as the drums approached, but the up-close wildness of the march – marked fffff in the score - could have lifted the roof. And this was a live broadcast for Radio 3: one had to admire his cool.
Finally we accompanied Liszt to Aragon with ‘Rhapsodie espagnole’, and with this high-Romantic fantasy Grosvenor brilliantly controlled his effects. The charming encore - an Albeniz tango arranged by Godowski - reminded us that this boy is an entertainer first and last. Things augur well for that Prom.