First Night of the Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London
After a slow start, the boy wizard brings magic to the piano
Sunday 17 July 2011
The First Prom, like the Last Prom, is all about gesture, but this one began with a specially commissioned work which would have earned nul point on any scale.
Judith Weir's normal style is quirky and original, but her four-minute fanfare – performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Chorus under the baton of Jiri Belohlavek – was like some terrible windy exhumation by William Walton. Brahms's Academic Festival Overture, which followed, was at least a pièce d'occasion with some fibre.
But this wasn't why the queues for standing room had been snaking hundreds of yards down the street. The real reason was diminutive 19-year-old Benjamin Grosvenor, the Andy Murray of British pianism, who would be the youngest-ever soloist to play at the opening Prom.
Grosvenor has been groomed like a racehorse since his precocious win in the BBC Young Musician of the Year contest at 11: his parents and his tutors at the Royal Academy have wisely kept him out of the limelight until now, but he can no longer escape it. Last week Decca released his Chopin and Liszt debut disc, and journalists have been trying to set him up as a musical radical, but all he wants to do is play. "I'm not that talented," he recently observed with engaging modesty.
He is extremely talented. But his virtuosity is a delicate affair, ideally suited to intimate gatherings: the only question, as he launched into Liszt's second piano concerto, was whether he would find a big enough sound to conquer the hall's notoriously unfriendly acoustic. The work itself shows Liszt both at his visionary best and at his most thumpingly banal: Grosvenor's job was to create a space for himself, and, in the long stretches where the orchestra was just providing a backdrop, to make every note glow.
This he did with pearlised scales and cascades, but even in the nearest stalls we had to strain our ears; there is drama in this piece, but Grosvenor didn't bring it out because his tempi were too fast. As he took his bow in his Little Lord Fauntleroy jacket, the whole thing felt like a toe-dipping exercise, both for him and for us.
Then he sat down again – and was transformed. His encore was one of Brahms's Hungarian Rhapsodies, as arranged by that fleet-fingered Hungarian-Gypsy wizard Georges Cziffra. Using it to weave exquisite filigree patterns in the air, Grosvenor became a wizard too.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
comedy Erm...he seems to be back
tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa
tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 PlayStation and Xbox hacked by Lizard Squad
- 2 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Vagina canoe artist defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
- 5 The Queen’s speech 2014: Recap and Twitter reaction to Game of Thrones reference
EastEnders Christmas special, review: Brilliant Danny Dyer glues you to your seat
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Doctor Who series 9: Jenna Coleman staying on for whole season as Clara Oswald
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader