Arts: Classical: A pianist after Mozart's heart

Gianluca Cascioli And The English Chamber Orchestra Barbican, London

PAUL GOODWIN was for several years the leading Baroque oboist in this country. Perhaps his experience with period instrument bands influenced his choice of tempi when he conducted the English Chamber Orchestra on Wednesday. They were especially fast in the Forlane of Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin and the Andante of Schubert's Fifth Symphony, though admittedly that is qualified by "con moto".

The ECO is a select group of top-class players, and although the performances were neat, they were not very distinctive. What a small band lacks in the opportunities for contrast, it can make up for in expressive details - niceties of articulation, dynamic shaping and so on. There wasn't much of that on offer until the arrival of the 19-year-old Italian pianist Gianluca Cascioli, who was the soloist in Mozart's penultimate Piano Concerto, the "Coronation," in D major, K537.

Cascioli joined in the opening tutti very discreetly as a "continuo" player - just as Mozart himself would have done - before slipping into the limelight with his first solo entry, which was deliciously pearly. He marked out the second idea by very slightly holding back. Then came a shower of pointed, buoyant staccato. Every passage brought a pleasure of its own, perfectly in tune with Mozart's character, which, in his own cadenza, Cascioli transformed into something more like Beethoven, with a succession of boldly surprising modulations.

The middle movement was full of what my childhood piano teacher would have called "light and shade," though all was perfectly in scale, and the decorative scales at the end rippled deliciously.

Cascioli launched the finale strongly, then balanced himself adroitly with the orchestra - whom he watched constantly - and supplied two impeccable "lead-ins" to the returns of the rondo theme: the first very crisp, the second delicately rhapsodic. This was the freshest and most invigorating Mozart playing I have heard for a long time.

The novelty of the evening was an elegiac serenade, "To the Cherry Blossom", by the young Japanese composer Yui Kakinuma. It featured that dolefully evocative instrument, the shakuhachi - a sort of large recorder with a much richer, fuller sound - as well as a solo violin, both set in relief against an orchestra of strings. Less voluptuous than the swooning, sybaritic music of Takemitsu, it was none the less in a similar vein of lingering tenderness. David Gatt, a flautist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, went native, not just by wearing traditional Japanese dress, but in his authentic mastery of the shakuhachi, while the ECO's co-leader Paul Barritt provided a more European perspective, with a touch of Elgarian wistfulness towards the end.

Adrian Jack

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