CHOPIN; LISZT; RAVEL Piano works
Benjamin Grosvenor is not only the first British pianist to be signed by Decca since the days of Clifford Curzon, Peter Katin and Moura Lympany, but also the youngest British artist ever to be signed to the label. Just as significantly, this acknowledgement has not come on the back of a major competition. Frankly, Grosvenor is too interesting and too individual to win any of them. His discs of minor Chopin (EMI, 3/10), his highly praised unofficial debut (“This and That”, 4/10), live recordings circulated privately over the past few years and this new one are evidence of an awesome talent, a pianist with fantastic natural reflexes in the Cziffra class and, more excitingly, a musician with purpose and imagination, whose playing transcends the sterile confines of the studio.
Having said that, I think he misjudges the first of the Four Scherzos (he orders them 1, 4, 3 and 2). It clocks in at 8’08”, compared with Rubinstein’s fast 8’20” (his 1932 recording), a tempo that reduces the first subject to the verge of incoherence. After this undeniably exciting reading, Grosvenor inserts a single Nocturne as a counterweight between each Scherzo. Good programming. (Louis Lortie did this on his recent excellent Chopin recital for Chandos; his B minor Scherzo, incidentally, lasts 9’26”.) I have never heard the filigree runs in the Nocturnes and two Chants polonais delivered with such innate improvisatory nonchalance, or a second part of the B flat minor Scherzo that can match Grosvenor’s delicious insouciance. This is music-making with a smile on its face.
Crowning it all is a masterly Gaspard in which an astonishing array of touch and tonal colouring are brought to bear in Grosvenor’s vivid, distinctly defined characterisation of all three movements. In brief, I am delighted that this prodigiously gifted young musician is on his way, on the right label and launched at last on what will surely be an important international career.