Recording of the Week Benjamin Grosvenor
Last Friday pianist Benjamin Grosvenor became the Proms’ opening night’s youngest ever soloist, playing the Second Piano Concerto of Franz Liszt. Earlier this year the nineteen year old also became the youngest British musician ever to sign a contract with the record label Decca, and the first British pianist on the label since the likes of Clifford Curzon, Moura Lympany and Peter Katin in the 1940s and 50s.
He first rose to prominence when he won the piano section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2004 at the age of 11. I still remember him playing the Ravel G major Concerto in the final (which was ultimately won by violinist Nicola Benedetti). It wasn’t his technique that impressed me (although that was obviously pretty good), but his astonishingly mature and musical performance – something so rare from someone so young, and it was immediately clear he was destined for great things.
Sensibly he has taken his time to develop his playing and his career (he is still studying at the Royal Academy of Music) and his first major recording was released last Monday. It is all solo piano music and features Chopin’s Four Scherzi, Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit and shorter pieces by Chopin and Liszt.
The Chopin Scherzi are substantial works and are here cleverly interspersed with Nocturnes. It works well, provides good contrast, and shows off many attributes in Grosvenor’s playing. In the Scherzi you can marvel at his rapid passagework, powerful octaves and careful control of balance, while in the Nocturnes he doesn’t over-sentimentalise the music but uses careful pacing and phrasing to make them sound both organic and ‘perfectly formed’.
Colours and textures are key when performing Ravel’s music, and his control of tonal colouring is really impressive in his recording of the composer’s Gaspard de la Nuit. You can really hear the tinkling of the water in the opening of the first movement and the tolling bells and deathlike atmosphere in the second. Combined with this is an impressive dynamic range (including some frightening climaxes in the last movement), careful voiced textures and a natural musicianship free from mannerisms or in any way limited by technical considerations.
In all, a really impressive debut disc. There are quite a few young technically marvellous pianists around at the moment, but few with such a natural and deep musicianship as this. He still has a little way to go – I think he’ll get bolder and braver in following his musical instincts – but this is definitely an impressive start.
As usual you can listen to sound samples and videos via the links below, and I’m spoiling you with the latter this week as I couldn’t decide whether to go for the five-minute introductory video, or the three-minute complete performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in F Sharp, so I’ve given you both! Enjoy!
Benjamin Grosvenor (piano)
Available Format: CD