Arts: Classical: A pianist's progress

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The Independent Culture
BORIS BEREZOVSKY divided his charity recital at St John's Smith Square on Monday between Rachmaninov and Chopin. The first half was quite simply beyond criticism.

In the first seven of Rachmaninov's Op23 Preludes, Berezovsky commanded all the tonal allure and strength you dream of in these glamorous pieces. It looked effortless, and only the perspiration glistening on his face when he took his bow betrayed the physical effort involved. But he didn't even walk off before playing three of Rachmaninov's moments musicaux - the second in which the bewildered, aerial chromaticism approaches the style of Scriabin; the gloomily Slavonic third piece and the heroic, ballad-like fourth.

Berezovsky's Chopin was equally remarkable, though Chopin's emotional complexity and fine nervous quality - not at all the same as neurotic fragility, which he's sometimes accused of - were replaced by a masterful, sweeping view of each piece.

In the first scherzo, Berezovsky reserved his full fury for the return of the fast tempo after the dreamy middle section, which was so relaxed and free it was almost bleary.

There's no doubt that pianists not only learn from their predecessors but also seek to outdo them. So, working his way through a selection from Chopin's Op 10 Studies at the end of a demanding evening, Berezovsky showed a stamina and dexterity that may have set a new record.

A far cry from the recital by the Portuguese pianist Maria Joao Pires at the Barbican on Tuesday. It's a huge place to fill, and the Barbican could make a few experiments to help bring the piano sound closer to the audience. Pires is not exactly a big player, and though she delivered much of Chopin's F minor Fantasy with elegant fluency, she risked excessively slow tempi in the opening and middle sections. Debussy's "Pour le Piano" seemed effortful and Mozart's A major Sonata K331 painstaking, with its Turkish rondo finale cut down to a modest trot.

I'm probably in a minority in finding the evening heavy going, for the ovation was warm, and while the audience responded to Pires's nun-like demeanour with enthusiasm, I found it faintly ridiculous.