CLASSICAL MUSIC; Eldar Nebolsin Wigmore Hall, London

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Very occasionally, at the end of a recital, you want to hear more of a pianist - to reveal the unexpected. Eldar Nebolsin left us with one simple, plaintive encore on Friday, Tchaikovsky's Sweet Dreams, perfectly chosen after Schumann's ebullient Carnaval, and an indelible good-night. This was his British debut, five years after he won the Santander Piano Competition at the age of 18, and three years after his first solo disc of Chopin and Liszt announced an uncommonly stylish and poetic player. He began with Beethoven's first set of Bagatelles, Op 33, precisely shaded, elegantly relaxed and full of humour.

Humour in Beethoven's Eroica Variations is still broader, erupting in the 15th variation in a tremendous cadenza-like display before the fugue, built on the theme's skeletal bass-line. Here Nebolsin was very demonstrative, supplying all the energy that seemed, in the early variations, as if it were bursting for release. What also emerged, though, was a slight tendency to underplay the left hand, as in the canon of the seventh variation, and a taste for polarising dynamic levels, though never with undue violence.

Nebolsin is a lovely pianist to watch, because he's so physically free, sitting quite low, near the edge of the stool, but without any apparent tension in his shoulders. In quiet music, even his hands seemed scarcely to move. Yet he threw his whole body into the opening fortissimi of Carnaval, and when the tempo swished, it took off in a whirl. This was not a performance full of exquisite effects, unduly strained after, but it was youthful, red-blooded and unafraid. The "Sphinxes" were there, in low rumbling tremolos and double octaves, after which "Papillons" was extremely fast and feathery. "Chopin" sang with delicious ease, and the brilliant numbers, "Pantalon and Colombine" and "Paganini", were sharply athletic. The introduction to the final March hurtled dizzily, matching the opening number, and the March itself was thrilling enough to excuse a few dropped stitches at the end.

The evening was in aid of the Ibero-American Benevolent Society, and was sponsored by various banks, Iberia Airlines and Hello! magazine. A few of the well-dressed audience might have stepped from its pages. They might also have switched off their mobile phones and sucked some cough drops. The South Bank should book Nebolsin for its International Piano Series.

Adrian Jack

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