It was his shelter amid a stormy crossing of the Baltic Sea that Wagner himself said inspired his writing of the overture to The Flying Dutchman. The opera’s plot – the cursed sailor condemned to unending nautical hell – is itself telling of the horrendous conditions Wagner and his wife must have endured throughout their journey from Riga to Paris, although since they were running from considerable financial debts the ordeal must have seemed worth it.

Benjamin Grosvenor © Decca | Sophie Wright
Benjamin Grosvenor
© Decca | Sophie Wright

Vassily Sinaisky’s pared-back interpretation with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra meant we were able to hear the story of the sailors, their chants and ballads more clearly. There were distinct tempests followed by a becalming and a palpable relief that we had reached safety before, once again, we were hit by chromatic swells. Snippets of arias to come (as one might expect in an overture) were well defined, if perhaps brought to the fore at times with too much gusto.

Crucial to the afternoon’s concert was the arrival of pianist Benjamin Grosvenor who gave a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 in C major. From the confidence of Grosvenor’s entry at the end of the lengthy exposition to the very end of the piece we were reminded of why Grosvenor (winner of the Keyboard Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year competition) is widely considered a prodigy of his age and a keyboard visionary.

It was his seamless traversal of the keys that first struck the listener, an almost imperceptible touch at times, except during fortissimo phrases where his digital mechanics are called into play with expert precision. Even considering its long association with the Swedish film Elvira Madigan, Grosvenor’s interpretation of the dynamics in the central Andante brought a welcome luminous rethink for the modern ear. The virtuosic passages of the third movement seemed not to challenge him in the slightest. But then, for someone who is equally at home beneath the chromatic melee of composers such as Liszt and Chopin, one could hardly imagine they would. However, the playing of Mozart requires something more than virtuosity; it requires temperance and exactitude, and for a young man these were obvious in abundance.

Jean Sibelius’ Symphony no. 1 in E minor is typical of the composer’s drive to reinstate old and ancient Finnish culture. Clarinettist Oliver Janes began the symphony with a stunningly desolate solo that introduce the themes and motifs of almost the entire work, before Sinaisky raised his baton and churned up of the rest of the orchestra to a rousing interpretation of the Finn’s masterpiece. Here was a perfect example of a free-form painting by numbers, and what it sought in energy and downforce, it was amply proffered by the CBSO in a high-voltage performance.

Sinaisky’s landscapes were negotiated with intensity, pomp and valour and by the work’s unfolding we were treated to a stunning swath of Finnish sea-blues and whites. Great blocks of passion and bleakness were rendered clear and present by the deft orchestral playing. Here, at the hands of Sinaisky and from the players of the CBSO, were the country's “thousands of lakes and the sky”, and it was a treat to behold.

****1