For the final concert in LSO St. Luke’s Chopin 2010 series, Benjamin Grosvenor’s programme was framed by the first two Scherzos, with the lengthy Fourth Scherzo forming the centrepiece of the recital. A current BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, at eighteen Grosvenor can no longer be classed as a child prodigy, yet, regardless of age, his is still a remarkable achievement. Dressed in refreshingly different ensemble of lilac shirt and black waistcoat, he bounded onto the platform and got straight down to business.

Robert Parker as Romeo, photo: Bill Cooper
Robert Parker as Romeo, photo: Bill Cooper

In the First Scherzo he gained the full measure of its turbulent nature, with the muscular bass octaves offset by sparkling repeated notes in the treble. The two Nocturnes were characterised by an unsentimental objectivity, never lingering too long over phrases but instead creating interest through delicately shaped flourishes. Here, as in the more tender sections of the Scherzo, Grosvenor was adept at creating a bed of sound that maintained overall clarity through his judicious pedalling.

With such careful execution, however, some sense of spontaneity was lost in the improvisatory outbursts of the C sharp minor Nocturne. The E minor Nocturne, on the other hand, had a much more natural sense of development, the operatic melody supported by a rich, dark left hand accompaniment. The lilting of a Venetian gondolier was somewhat lacking in the Barcarolle, though here the expansive culmination was exciting, with the cleanly executed double trills never obscuring the overall musical texture.

Centenary celebrations are often lauded as an opportunity to explore a composer’s more neglected works. The comparatively substantial Scherzos were interspersed with a selection of lesser-known miniatures, including two Bourrées and Chopin’s only Fugue, whose thickly sustained lines obscured some of the clarity of counterpoint.

The F sharp major Allegretto, written in the style of a Mazurka, demonstrated the improvisatory character that was lacking in the Nocturnes. Yet here, as in the Galop Marquis written for George Sand, one can’t help but feel that at only one to two minutes’ duration, such works would be better suited as encores rather than as programmed items. Indeed, many of them were written as dedications for close friends and never intended for public performance. In a year where there has been a surfeit of Chopin performances, it is necessary to question whether these works have been justly or unjustly neglected. Programmed alongside such undeniably superior music, they are sure to compare unfavourably.

Chopin proved to be an ideal vehicle for showcasing Grosvenor’s fleet-fingered talents through rapid passagework and youthful dance-like energy. He is proving himself to be developing into a mature and sensitive artist capable of producing a wide range of pianistic colours. All that remains is for him to reign in a little speed in order to produce a greater sense of tension and weight, particularly at more climactic moments. The performance was well-received by a packed St. Luke’s, the audience erupting into applause before the final note of the Scherzo in B flat minor.