Indonesian born, Halim is a slight man but a big pianist, making nonsense of claims for this or that octogenarian as the "last romantic". With each piece he began by spreading his arms and bringing his hands very slowly into position - a gesture of consecration that would have looked absurd had his performances been less than hugely characterful. Three Busoni arrangements of Chorale Preludes by Bach were laden with a weight of expressive emphasis justified by the thick textures, with their grumbling bass lines. This was the way the musical giants early this century approached Bach, and if, in "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland", Halim's variations of speed and volume seemed subjective, they were always fascinating and beautiful.
In five Chopin Mazurkas, his crisply stylised articulation and lavish colouring were unlike the plainer approach of most pianists today and would probably be regarded as unidiomatic by some. There was no doubt, anyway, he was judging as well as relishing every moment, and his controlled intensity in the inspired non sequiturs of Schumann's Humoreske made a compelling case for this neglected work, with its vein of manic enthusiasm which only the finest technique can serve. Halim certainly has that. Nor was he overstating the vein of extempore indulgence in three of Granados's Goyescas when he squeezed them for the last drop of voluptuous abandon - they are too verbose to be played with classical decorum. Still, he did not seem incapable of judicious restraint in Liszt's rowdy and rousing Hungarian Rhapsody No 12, whose heavy closing moments he saved from vulgarity by limiting brute force.
On disc Jean-Yves Thibaudet can sound powerful and incisive. At the Wigmore on Tuesday he was light and delicate, pedalling economically and producing, in Debussy's second book of Preludes, very fine gradations of tone. Even in "Feux d'artifice", he kept explosions below a certain level, and avoided the potential violence of "La Puerta del Vino". Altogether, he seemed detached and fastidious, leaning well back, stretching his arms fully as he tipped his head to one side.
Many pianists bring more passion and warmth to Chopin's 24 Preludes - a grandeur in the central build-up of the "Raindrop" Prelude, in which the receding tide of feeling was effortlessly poignant here, or a sense of the epic in the A flat Prelude, rather slight in these hands, and a stormy abandon in the final piece. Not much of that either. On the plus side, the playing was clean and graceful, free of sentimentality. But it did not inspire very deep feelings. The second encore, "Turn out the Stars" by Bill Evans, was coolly lovely, and hardly changed the emotional temperature of the evening as a whole.
Adrian JackReuse content