Classical: The gentle touch

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The Independent Culture
JEAN-PHILIPPE COLLARD QEH;

FAZIL SAY

WIGMORE HALL, LONDON

IT'S EASY to take a pianist such as Jean-Philippe Collard for granted. For 30 years he has been the epitome of steely French fingers, impeccably trained, a little cool. Collard's solo recital at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday afternoon was his first in London for four years, and it was pretty impressive. He's rather a scientific player, and throughout the Theme of Faure's Op 73 Variations he introduced a rhythmic hiccup every two or three bars which seemed designed to give this strong and noble music some secretive touch of magic, like a couturier's tuck.

Yet usually, his approach is straightforward. He slipped through Faure's second Impromptu with the easiest fluency, and his performance of Ravel's Sonatine was a model of its kind: poised and limpid, with sonorities effortlessly graded from brightness to melting softness. In Oiseaux tristes he flicked a finger upwards as if ridding the key of a speck of dirt, but the sound was a haunting, bell-like resonance.

Collard has for long been known as a fine Rachmaninov player. Now he has moved on to Scriabin, and he devoted the second part of his recital to him. He didn't quite keep the teeming cauldron of the Fantasie in B minor under control, but disguised a small memory lapse very cleverly, and Vers la flamme and the Prelude et Nocturne, Op 9, for left hand were beautifully judged, while in the prestissimo volando of the Fourth Sonata's second movement, Collard achieved the sort of feathery lightness that eluded the composer himself, if his recordings are anything to go by.

On Monday at the Wigmore Hall, the Turkish pianist Fazil Say played Bach in the first half of his programme with bulging variations of volume - mainly very loud. Mozart's F major Sonata, K330, was similarly bold and unsubtle, though Say showed a little more sensitivity in the central minor section of the Andante. For the most part, his playing was physically aggressive and expressively primitive, and beneath the storm-tossed surface of the Alban Berg Sonata he didn't show much sense of line.

Say finished with a group of his own pieces, which suggested that his career might take a different direction from the classical repertoire, towards jazz fusion. A short set of variations on Paganini's 24th Caprice and his own irreverently jazzy paraphrase of Mozart's Turkish Rondo really galvanised the audience for the first time in the whole evening, while another piece with a moody, oriental incantation framing a central section which was reminiscent of Chick Corea pointed to possibilities of more extended improvisations. A bit of a loose cannon.

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