An element of surprise

Chopin Recitals
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Louis Lortie devoted part two of his Chopin recital at the Wigmore Hall last Friday to the 24 Preludes - not so frequently played as you would expect for such popular pieces. Lortie is certainly a strong pianist, and played the rippling left hand of No 3 with a boldness hardly warranted by the piano, leggiero marking. But the outer sections of the "Raindrop" Prelude were delicate and really quiet, and stilled the audience like a spell. Despite performances that were never less than technically commanding and expressively purposeful, however, the response to most of the programme seemed underwhelming. Some spark was missing, as if Lortie knew too well how he would shape the music.

Ten years after he first made such a strong impression in this country, Lortie has not failed to live up to it, but he hasn't really surprised us either. With more than 20 discs to his credit, including the complete piano works of Ravel and sonatas of Beethoven, he's being cast in the role of can-do-all, another cycle-slogger. That may be commercially rewarding, but it doesn't necessarily make for the most interesting artistic results.

The qualities of Andrew Wilde - not to be confused with his British senior David Wilde, still less with the veteran American Earl Wild - have been compared to those of Myra Hess and Solomon. His QEH recital on Wednesday made apparent why. He chose a Chopin programme of almost overwhelming richness - the Fantasy, Barcarolle and Sonatas Nos 2 and 3. He dashed on and off the platform in a hectic kind of way, starting each work almost before he was seated. There was an exciting freshness, even a sense of danger in his playing, but nothing unconsidered. The Fantasy was paced like an epic journey, from the long preparatory section, through the lyrical efflorescence and contrasting repose in the distant central slow section, to a thrilling surge of emotion at the end. The Barcarolle showed an exquisite sense of rhythmic style, the swaying motion nudged just enough to send the piece floating. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, were Wilde's passion and intelligence - and courage - in the treacherous Second Sonata. His boldness in dramatising the exploratory opening of the development in the first movement was highly original and effective, and his easy melodic grace in the long tune at the heart of the Funeral March made you wonder why most pianists sound so stiff and boring at this point. An inspired, and inspiring, performance, rising fully to all the great moments.

After which, there was hardly room for admiration to increase. But the Third Sonata was splendid, too - forthright and clear, even though Wilde pedalled the stormier passages generously. He took nothing for granted, and really played the piano like an orchestra, thinning out his tone deliberately in the slow movement, rather as string-players might cut down on vibrato. For once, I actually wanted more encores, just to hear what he would do with them. We got two Waltzes: in C sharp minor, Op 64 No 2, delicately coloured and affectionate; and in A flat, Op 34 No 1, in all its brilliant splendour. You can hear Wilde again, at the Wigmore Hall, in March.