GERSHWIN Rhapsody in Blue SAINT-SAËNS Piano Concerto No 2
After 20-year-old Benjamin Grosvenor’s astonishing Decca solo debut album (10/11) comes his first concerto disc, giving us one of the most dazzling records to have come my way for many years. In Saint-Saëns’s Second (the one that goes from Bach to Offenbach) he opens with a rhetorical grandeur before setting the keyboard ablaze with a burst of swaggering, supercharged virtuosity. He has technique to burn and his pungency and force are things to marvel at (Cziffra would surely have sensed a pianist after his own heart, though Grosvenor’s focus and discipline are the reverse of gypsy abandon). His rip-roaring Presto finale leaves others standing and never for a moment is he afraid to dare to speak out and be himself.
Grosvenor’s Ravel brims over with individual touches, his volatility complemented by a no less enviable poise in the central bittersweet Adagio, while in Gershwin his virtuosity is once more exultant rather than brash, brilliantly alive to both whimsy and manic energy. Orchestra and conductor back him to the hilt (the clarinettist milks his opening wail and swell for all its worth) and there are three exquisite encores: Saint-Saëns-Godowsky’s The Swan may be forever associated with Cherkassky’s mercurial genius but Grosvenor’s fine-spun elegance and line are a match for anyone; and in Gershwin’s ‘Love walked in’ he could hardly evince a more winking, insinuating charm. Mercifully free from the increasingly stale competition circuit, Grosvenor’s is, at the least, a talent in a thousand.