Classical: Out of the depths, into the shadows

Aleksander Madzar Queen Elizabeth Hall London
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The Independent Culture
IT'S RARE that a recital builds up such momentum that by the end of it you're on the edge of your seat, just itching to express your joy at something supremely well done. Why the audience weren't shouting and stamping on Wednesday is a mystery.

Aleksandar Madzar first made his mark in this country when he won third prize at the Leeds Piano Competition in 1996. He was born in Belgrade 31 years ago and now lives in Brussels. He began his South Bank recital with Alban Berg's early Sonata and unfolded it with a great sense of inner stillness, almost by stealth, with graceful, octopoid movements of his arms and hands.

If there was a lack of forward thrust, he made up for it in Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze. I have never heard a better performance of the cycle. Particularly impressive was Madzar's mastery of the galloping sixth piece, his rhythmic drive and strongly defined cross-rhythms in the 10th, angular characterisation of the 12th (a pre-echo of early Prokofiev here), and his accurate attack at fearlessly fast tempi in the 15th and 16th pieces. He was extremely sensitive in the poetic, inward numbers too, and the penultimate one was gorgeously muted and pearly, after which the postlude blossomed like a benediction.

After two Scarlatti Sonatas, played as if they were the most delicate decorative filigree, Madzar applied all the magic of his evanescent touch to Luciano Berio's Luftklavier of 1985 - flickering and feathery in its constant tremolo motion. Berio's earlier Sequenza IV, with its staccato shocks and clusters of notes evoking the spooky sounds of early electronic music, was tense and beautifully controlled.

But the piece de resistance of the evening was Ravel's macabre triptych, Gaspard de la Nuit. "Ondine" - the water sprite who lures sailors to their death - seemed impalpable, alluring, and its luminous depths unfathomable. In the eerie landscape of "Le Gibet", with its continuously tolling bell, Madzar's subtle weighting of the softly padding chords beneath was infinitely resourceful - no orchestration could have endowed them with a more sumptuously shadowy quality. And "Scarbo", the weird nocturnal dwarf evoked in a transcendental sort of pianistic ju-jitsu, thrilling for the brilliance of Madzar's technical command, but more important, conjured up with fabulous powers of suggestion. This was the Gaspard of one's dreams. Watch out for the Radio 3 broadcast in The Piano, Wednesdays at 10pm.