Abduraimov/LPO/Tortelier, Royal Festival Hall

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The Independent Culture

Piano competitions don’t always throw up outright stars, but in 19-year-old Bezhod Abduraimov the London International Piano Competition most certainly has.

This return to the hall where he first electrified a London audience was just as astonishing, and in the intervening year he has gained hugely in technical control.

Saint-Saens’s second piano concerto was dashed off in a mere 17 days for the composer himself to play, and if it’s more thin in both ideas and execution, Abduraimov nevertheless did it proud. He invested the Bach-like solo piano entry with ringing authority, and brought shading and nuance to the rather ordinary opening theme which Saint-Saens had cadged from his pupil Faure. As written, the second subject is like Chopin minus the magic, yet Abduraimov’s artistry conferred its own magic, with each phrase exquisitely shaped. The ensuing Scherzo was trite in the Mendelssohnian manner, but he dignified it with a light and silky touch. With Yan Pascal Tortelier and the London Philharmonic keeping well-judged pace, he took the concluding Tarantella at hurtling speed, covering the keyboard – and encompassing the divided trills and the scampering staccato octaves – with seemingly effortless grace.

He took his bow with hands crossed over his heart in the Russian style, and left us all energised. Next time he should be let loose on a work more worthy of his talents: as his recent Wigmore recital proved, he has the originality to shine fresh light on an overplayed work like Chopin’s Preludes, and he has the virtuosity of a Horowitz.

This concert had begun with Faure’s ‘Pelleas et Melisande’ suite, which predated Debussy’s opera on the same subject, but had none of the opera’s shadowy power - though as it was designed to accompany a West End production starring Mrs Patrick Campbell, its purpose was humbler. The lush string harmonies of Melisande’s theme faithfully conjured up visions of Edwardian theatre, and the celebrated flute solo had winning charm.

Tortelier and the LPO ended with Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ – which galvanised Parisian audiences ten years later – and if their performance was coarse-grained, it was at least suitably orgiastic. The trumpets and tubas had jazzy brilliance, and the woodwind was vibrant, but the strings lacked finesse. Stravinsky’s hushed evocation of a pagan night just wasn’t hushed or mysterious enough.