Classical RECITALS Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
When the young Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky first played in London a few years ago, many people marked him down as a basher. He had won the Moscow International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1990, which doesn't guarantee much beyond good fingers, but the lad's most recent disc - all Ravel - really was exceptionally imaginative and exquisitely played.

Expectations ran high for last Friday's Wigmore Hall recital, in which he chose a punishing 40 minutes' worth of Chopin Studies, four of Liszt's Transcendental Studies of 1851, and Schumann's Fantasy. Berezovsky treated the ordeal as a job, with the minimum of fuss, and if the very first of Chopin's Op 10 set and the last of the Op 25 were taken by the scruff of the neck, other Studies were both sensitive and polished.

Op 10 No 2 had astonishing ease, Op 10 No 7 feathery lightness. In the Study for octaves Berezovsky allowed himself plenty of time and relaxed in the middle section with the natural lyricism of a mature master. Liszt's notorious Feux follets was a high spot - immaculate, effortless.

But for much of the recital Berezovsky made too much of casual delicacy, as if this were his mood for a muggy evening. Although Schumann's Fantasy started ardently enough - and while the ease with which he threw off the perilous jumps at the end of its middle movement set a new standard for sheer technical accomplishment - a great deal of the piece, including the whole of its last movement, seemed to drift in a shallow doze, completely without expressive intensity.

Making her Wigmore Hall recital debut on Sunday evening, the American soprano Renee Fleming was greeted by a large audience as if she had been singing there for years. It must have been on the strength of her Amelia in the current production of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Fleming hasn't got a big voice, and the high, quietly sustained lines of Richard Strauss's Waldseligkeit taxed her a bit, but it's fresh and pleasantly tremulous. It's also flexible and expressive, and she sang Poulenc's slightly saccharine Fiancailles pour rire with charm and humour. She made effective occasional use of her chest register in the last of Wolf's four Mignon songs, fluttered breezily in Strauss's Standchen and fussed realistically in Muttertandelei.

She also delivered the final line of Cacilie with a punch, and sang three of Rachmaninov's best-known songs, In the Silence of the Secret Night, O Never Sing to Me Again and Spring Waters, as if she understood the Russian words and really meant them.

The evening would have been still more enjoyable if Helen Yorke had been more forthcoming at the piano, though one has to admit that, in John Kander's ultra-conservative setting of a document from the Civil War, A Letter from Sullivan Ballou, she was lumbered with a devastatingly dull accompaniment.

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