Benjamin Grosvenor plays Chopin Concertos

Benjamin Grosvenor plays Chopin Concertos

Very much in the news right now as winner of the Gramophone Concerto Award, Benjamin Grosvenor has very much been part of the international piano scene for some time, with a portfolio of releases on Decca. Neither is the Grosvenor's first foray into the Gramophone Awards: in 2012 at the age of 20, he was named thier Young Artist of the Year as well as receiving the Instrumental Award for his disc of Chopin, Liszt and Ravel (Gaspard de la nuit). Previously, he was the youngest ever winner of the keyboard section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2004; he has also been the youngest soloist to appear at the First Night of the Proms (2011) and was the youngest pianist ever to sign for Decca (and the first British pisnist on teh label for almost 60 years).

In April this year, Grosvenor was announced as artist-in-residence for the 2020/21 season at Radio France: he will, CoVID permitting, give concerts with both the Orchestre National de France and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France as well as a give a solo recital. He is also Artist-in-Residence with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for the 2020/21 season (he is due to perform Chopin First Concerto with them on Wednesday, December 9: a mouth-watering programme of an Ocerture in C by Fanny Mendelssohn - you read that right - and Haydn's Symphony No. 88).

Most recently, Grosvenor gave a sparkling performance of Shosakoovich's First Piano Concerto at the Proms this year (to an empty hall: the Philharmonia was conducted by Paavo Järvi). It was a revelation (as was the orchestral version of Tombeau de Couperin in the same programme, incidentally).

Following a successful performance of Chopin's Second Concerto with the Royal Scottish  National Orchestra in 2018; the recording of both concertos took place at the RSNO Centre in Glasgow  in early August, 2019.  The rapport between Grosvenor and his conductor, Elim Chan, is little short of miraculous; the performances are a breath of fresh air. When I interviewed Grosvenor over coffee at the Royal Festival Hall around the time of release, he told me he'd been playing the concertos since an early age (unsurprisingly given his meteoric rise): the Second from age 12, the first around 14. Chopin had already been his favourite composer since the age of nine. His maturity came through early in another way, too: he knew recordings by the lieks of Rubinstein, Argerich and Horowitz, and would discuss them with his teacher at London' sRoyal Academy of Music, Daniel Ben-Pienaar. In the same breath as the three giants liosted above, Grosvenor mentioned Rosenthal and Friedman, Moiseiwitsch and Cherkassky. There's a lineage going on, an awareness of the weight of tradition that is also reflected in Grosvenor's respect of the scores. The Chopin Concertos are cherished in his hands, his legato a continual source of joy, the connection between Grosvenor and the orchestra a proper merging.

It is the transparency of the performances that is so notable; accusations of clumsy orchestration levelled at Chopin can easily be laughed off. Re-orchestrations have been attempted (Cortot, and Szell did one with the pianist Guimar Novaes), but this recording seems to prove they go down cul-de-sacs. It is testament to the recording team of John Fraser and Philip Siney that everything is crystal clearly and we get to hear wind parts that cna easily get lost in performance. You can hear the soloist/conductor rapportin this movement excerpt, the Larghetto slow movement for the First Concerto, Op. 11, marked "Romance". Listen to the bassoon solo that starts at 5"42 and how perfoectly placed (and played!) it is, with Grosvenor's filigree surrounding it:

Listen, too, to the transparency of the orchestra after the suave piano opening to the finale of the Second Concerto:

A fully deserved win, then. Performances fully to rank alongside Pollini/Kletzki in No. 1 and Zimmerman/Giulini in No. 2 (or indeed, Zimerman's self-directed performances of both). Not to mention Arrau ... and, while the list goes on and on, another great pair of performances is added from Grosvenor and Chan.

Photo of Benjamin Grosvenor / Elim Chan recording session copyright Sandy Butler.