CLASSICAL: Murray Perahia / Maurizio Pollini; RFH, London

Murray Perahia likes to send his audiences home with a Schubert Impromptu, and on Wednesday evening he played the E flat piece from Schubert's first set. Perahia is ideally equipped for this music, with his beautifully controlled tone quality and judicious balancing of the hands. Mendelssohn suits him too, and he played a selection of Songs without Words, avoiding the most hackneyed except for the felicitous "Spinning Song", Op 67 No 4. Mendelssohn draws on much the same ingredients as Schubert, yet his feeling is altogether more shallow, and even in the more ambitious Fantasia in F sharp minor, there's an effect of primness, as if he's only pretending at passions without wishing to getting burnt.

Schumann's Sonata in F sharp minor is the real thing, but here it was Perahia who kept his distance. Most music ebbs and flows, but Perahia preferred to let substantial passages in the outer movements relax when tension should have been maintained, for though the music isn't all on one level of excitement, it is constantly driven, even manic. The song- like slow movement is another matter, and Perahia played it beautifully. But the most problematic part of the whole sonata, the burlesque episode before the return of the Scherzo, was conspicuously unsuccessful, even though - perhaps because - Perahia took Schumann's scherzando marking literally. It really sounded rather silly. Leif Ove Andsnes once played this at the Wigmore Hall, strong and straight, and it all seemed to fall into place quite naturally.

Perahia took a light approach to Chopin's first Scherzo too. At the end of a sweaty evening, that came as a refreshing change, and if his left- hand thumb (not the one that gave all the trouble) enjoyed the limelight rather often, that's fine as long as it doesn't become a mannerism.

On Sunday Maurizio Pollini completed his recital series of the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas with the last three, Op 109, 110 and 111. All composers must dream of having their music played like this - with absolute concentration, naturalness and not the slightest hint of the pianist putting his relationship with the instrument before the music. Even as the concluding variations of Op 111 thinned out to a single exposed line, nothing seemed in doubt, but charged with a sense of the inevitable.

Pollini made no great meal of the searching recitative before the fugue in Op 110, but his eloquence never faltered. These works are exhausting and far from comfortable to play, and only intellectual heavyweights with a cast-iron technique need attempt them, yet the paradox is that a pianist with these qualifications, like Pollini - and he's not the only one - seems more completely fulfilled in them, more able to give a satisfyingly integrated performance, than in some of the earlier sonatas. Perhaps he needs the supreme challenge to forget himself. Adrian Jack

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