Picture: Decca/Sophie Wright
BENJAMIN Grosvenor gained first prize in the Keyboard Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year when he was just 11 years old. Since wowing the music critics (and anyone with ears) all those years ago, he has performed with many of the world’s best orchestras under the baton of the most esteemed conductors.
The programme began with two of Mendelssohn’s Preludes and Fugues, which are as technically demanding as those of Johann Sebastian Bach but, of course, being Mendelssohn, he could not fail to produce some wonderfully melodic writing along the way.
Chopin’s Sonata in B flat minor came next. The sonorous tones of the famous Funeral March rang out, reminding us perhaps of Chopin’s melancholic demeanour as he contemplated his own ill-health. Benjamin’s playing was passionate, thoughtful and clear; the last movement was mostly in consecutive octaves and he executed it brilliantly. His range of dynamics was astonishing throughout, from rampaging fortissimo, right down to the feather-like pianissimo of the most perfectly-executed left-hand arpeggios I have ever heard.
The second half brought us the music of Ravel and Liszt; the programme exciting the audience more with each piece. Le Tombeau de Couperin sparkled and shimmered, but when Benjamin began playing Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli, my jaw dropped. He doesn’t give much away in terms of facial expressions but each and every note is so perfectly thought out, he cannot fail to speak to us through his playing. I was close to the stage and although I sometimes close my eyes and just listen, I couldn’t bring myself to do this when watching Benjamin. It was like witnessing the most perfect audio 3D jigsaw coming to life and, at one point, I could actually hear the repetitive strumming of a guitar, even though I knew it was his incredible technique allowing him to produce such sounds. This truly was ‘a virtuoso showpiece which only the finest pianists dare perform’ and we all felt we were in the presence of the finest there is.
Benjamin kindly Tweeted me back to tell me that the encore was The Fountain and the Bell by Federico Mompou. A short, guileless piece to end what had been a stupendously exciting concert. With a quick smile and a very humble bow, he was gone. Come back soon Benjamin, you really are something else.