Keyboard prodigies are exciting, but their bloom can fade with tragic swiftness: Daniel Barenboim and Evgeny Kissin are among the very few whose infant celebrity has not been scuppered by their subsequent career. Such thoughts apply even to winners of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition: cellist Natalie Clein may have soared serenely on after winning at 15, but for pianist Freddy Kempf, winning at 14 was the prelude to a premature "career" that left him ditched three years later by his agent, after which he had to start again.
Now comes Beatle-mopped pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, BBC winner at 11, and at 14 already with a Chopin concerto at the Royal Albert Hall under his belt. Letting him loose on Grieg's Piano Concerto might seem appropriate, given the work's youthful ebullience, but its challenges go far beyond virtuoso pianism.
Grosvenor may be small, but he produced a very big sound for his cascading entry, and his touch had the requisite authority. His opening theme was springy and tender, and his sequel sighed expansively as it should; under Roy Goodman's baton, the English Chamber Orchestra made the right sort of foil, vibrant and responsive.
But as the movement went into its gymnastic phase, something went amiss: Grosvenor could play all the notes accurately, but didn't give them full weight, and the effect was hurried and smudged. He negotiated his explosive cadenza with such assurance that the orchestra were visibly relieved: he'd passed his first big test.
The lyrical slow movement seems simple, but it demands fastidious dynamic control, and here Grosvenor's playing was stiff and raw. He didn't seem able to let this lovely music breathe as it needs: you have to live, think, go away, come back. With the final movement, though, Goodman opened with a tempo that was simply too fast: Grosvenor gamely kept up, delivering fistfuls of notes at breakneck speed, but Grieg's mercurial poetry went for nothing.
Of course the audience went wild, dragging him repeatedly back until he responded with an encore, and they loved that too: Saint-Saëns, immaculately delivered. But now Grosvenor needs to master exquisite things, and learn how to sound faster by going slower. If he does that, in a few years he could be quite something.Reuse content