Sensitive Saint-Saëns piano playing by Benjamin Grosvenor was the highlight of tonight’s Delius, Saint-Saëns & Tchaikovsky Prom from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I’d come to hear Charles Dutoit’s conducting but the twenty year-old pianist stole the show.

Like Beethoven’s Fifth, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor is so well-known that it is difficult to impress. Nonetheless, one has high hopes of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, just back from Azerbaijan and China. I have long been a fan of Charles Dutoit’s recordings and I was looking forward to a fluid and expressive performance. Unfortunately this wasn’t it, Charles Dutoit was working really hard but the orchestra wasn’t responding with the expressiveness he was calling for. The orchestral ensemble seemed a bit dodgy at times. Oh dear, nice rehearsal, it will be all right on the night?

Likewise, Benjamin Grosvenor’s sensitive, supple and expressive playing completely outshone the Royal Philharmonic. Some dodgy handing off between pianist and orchestra solos and some suspect orchestral ensemble. Benjamin Grosvenor’s Prom debut was last year, when still a teenager. He knows to play softly: it’s a big Steinway and its sound can easily fill the Albert Hall. Playing softly means fine and beautifully supple music, a complete delight to experience, with fortissimi clear and still exact. Benjamin Grosvenor  played the middle movement as if he was Mozart and the last movement as if he was Chopin. Fantastic - and he played us a very touching encore. (The pianist had tweeted in the afternoon that his GPS wasn't working and he couldn't find the venue, well he certainly didn't loose his way in the music!)

I don’t know Delius’s early piece “Paris (The Song of a Great City)” but tonight’s performance didn’t enthral me.

Despite my dissatisfaction, these were interesting and live performances from which I walked home on a fine night. It’s now mid-August and it was dark after the concert, despite the early start. Promenaders I talked with would be returning to Newmarket and Lowestoft, they’ll still be travelling long after I complete this piece. Kensington High Street seemed to have a post-Olympics outing of a Russian Olympic team and the local night-time runners-for-fitness have returned.

Delius: Paris (The Song of a Great City)
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E minor
Benjamin Grosvenor, piano
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Charles Dutoit, conductor