Classical: Even pianists get the blues

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The Independent Culture



Sequeira Costa is a highly successful teacher of top-flight pianists. As a player he's in that bracket too. In his Wigmore Hall recital last Saturday, his modest, intent posture and economical hand movements made much of his programme seem easy, yet not facile. If he held back from the wildest extremes in the first two movements of Chopin's "Funeral March" Sonata, he still put over a sense of breathless urgency, and his feathery, intermittently accented touch in the final movement suggested a storm that never quite broke. Less effective were the melodious middle sections of the second and third movements, which he shaped in a surprisingly angular way, as if his feelings had gone numb with over-exposure.

Well, you can't win them all, and a pianist who captures the innocent wonder of Schumann's Waldscenen, as he did, is very unusual. But why did he spoil his exquisitely delicate playing in "Vogel als Prophet", the most celebrated piece in the collection, by hastening through its silences, which create such an essential sense of awe?

The second half of Sequeira Costa's programme suggested a link between Schumann and Chabrier, and Chabrier and Debussy, whose Suite bergamasque could be viewed as an aristocratic French equivalent of Schumann's evocation of sylvan enchantment. He tossed off Chabrier's devilish Bourree fantasque, in which Wagnerian chromatics go skipping gaily to the operetta, without a suspicion of undue pressure, and let the Idylle, whose wonderful weirdness is all in the subsidiary voices, speak for itself.

Some real collector's rarities to end didn't have much to say, but were nice to hear just once. They were Nenia, by the Italian protege of Liszt, Giovanni Sgambati, a Scherzo by that unlikely Glaswegian, Eugen d'Albert, and a Ballada by one of Sequeira Costa's own teachers, Jose Vianna da Motta, in whose memory he founded a piano competition in Lisbon.

The Brazilian-born pianist Cristina Ortiz made hardly any concessions to the box office but still pulled in a fair-sized audience to her recital at the Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday. In a programme including Poulenc, Mompou and Stenhammar, the only well-known work was Grieg's Ballade, which she attacked with great energy, though the finale seemed full of effort rather than expansive and noble.

Ortiz's special talent for spirited characterisation and rhythmic zest were best shown in a group of pieces by the Brazilian composer Fructuoso Vianna, who died in 1976, aged 80. She had a field day with their enterprising keyboard textures and tangy harmonies, and in one of the seven Miniatures sobre temas brasileiros she even had to yell out street cries to add a bit of local colour, which she did with a real ring of authenticity. The wild final dance of Vianna's Corta-Jaca was exhilarating, and perhaps Ortiz should have put it right at the end of the evening, after another group of pieces by Vianna's contemporary and compatriot, Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez, which were less striking and came as a bit of an anti-climax.