Arts: Classical: The natural force of gravity

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ON SATURDAY, the Canadian pianist Louis Lortie reached the fourth recital in his Beethoven series, with four Sonatas written in 1800 and 1801, including the two Op 27, subtitled "Quasi una fantasia". Beethoven was aiming at more flexibility and asked for all the movements of the Op 27 Sonatas to be played without a break. Lortie also ran the movements together in the other two Sonatas, Op 26 and 28, smoothing things over with just a hint of dismissiveness.

He's a very rational pianist, and there were no idiosyncratic touches - nor, to me at least, any revelations. But to someone coming to Beethoven's Sonatas relatively new, Lortie is a reliable, straightforward guide.

Monday night was the Wigmore debut of the young English pianist Ashley Wass, winner of the 1997 London Piano Competition. Behind his deeply considered programme hovered the ghosts of three great pianists: Rachmaninov and Busoni, with their arrangements of movements from Bach violin Partitas; and Horowitz, with Samuel Barber's mighty Sonata of 1949, which he first made widely known. Instead of emulating Horowitz's special brand of brilliance, Wass brought his own integrity to this monumental, and at times, frightening work. The slow movement, in Wass's hands, seemed genuinely deep and grand without any suggestion of posturing.

Wass's own character as a pianist is one of natural gravity and strength through understatement. Which served Beethoven's "32 Variations in C minor" very well indeed, and saved them from seeming like a glorified set of exercises.

The spirit of Bach, filtered through a late Romantic twilight, pervades Cesar Franck's "Prelude Chorale" and "Fugue", which ended the recital. Here, Wass's unforced singing line and sense of orchestral depth, and his instinct for distinguishing between contrapuntal structure and colouristic texture, combined gloriously to reaffirm this work as one of the sublime achievements of 19th-century keyboard music.

Adrian Jack

The next recital in Louis Lortie's Beethoven series is on Sunday, 4pm, 0171-935 2141