Classical Nikolai Lugansky / Malcolm Binns Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
The young pianist Nikolai Lugansky won the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition in 1994. He isn't new to London - he gave a Rachmaninov recital at the Wigmore Hall in October 1990, when he was a mere 18. On Friday evening he played a recital of Beethoven's "Tempest" Sonata, six Rachmaninov Preludes, Scriabin's Second Sonata and Prokofiev's Sixth Sonata. He's a tall, rather placid young man, and his playing was cool to the point of being uncommitted. "Gloomy, under- inflected" was how I described the effect of his Rachmaninov just over five years ago, and now I would add "downright colourless".

The Beethoven was a bad choice for a pianist so young and so ungenerous in feeling. The slow bits in the first movement were as if frozen under hypnosis and overbalanced the whole form. The slow movement was merely boring. Still, Lugansky got round Scriabin's Second Sonata all right, and since it's heard so rarely, it was good to have the chance to relish the delicious harmony and rapid finger work in the quick second movement, even if it could have done with more brilliance and expressive energy. The first movement is a strange beast, and at the start flounders like a great stranded fish. The exquisite lyrical line which follows was meaningless in this performance, as if Lugansky had gone completely numb. Still, he couldn't quite kill the composer's sense of exploration and proud effrontery.

Prokofiev's over-insistent Sixth Sonata was not bad either, but again, rather grey. By far the best thing in the whole evening was the second encore - a beautifully effortless, almost nonchalant dispatch of Liszt's Feux follets. All of which suggests a severely limited artistic range.

Malcolm Binns has been one of the most steadfast names in British music for at least 30 years and celebrated his 60th birthday on Monday with a Wigmore Hall recital that really tested his concentration and stamina, consisting of both complete sets of Chopin Studies, Op 10 and 25, with the Barcarolle to open the first half, and the Nocturne in C minor, Op 48 No 1 after the interval. It wasn't surprising, perhaps, if several studies lacked their full degree of intensity, and Binns helped himself in the gruelling A minor, the second of Op 10, with more rubato and pedal than it needs.

He seemed to enjoy playing the second set more than the first - the opening "Aeolian Harp" study was beautifully balanced and rippling and if, in the octave study, he took corners rather leisurely, he built up power for the final climax. His sound was always warm, but there was little really quiet playing, admittedly hard to achieve in this hall. As an interpreter, Binns has always seemed more sensible than interested in extremes of sensitivity. There were a lot of his friends in the audience, and in two mellow encores, "Chopin" from Schumann's Carnaval, and "Traumerei" from Kinderscenen, he seemed to be speaking to them.

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