Andreas Haefliger, Wigmore Hall, London


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Liszt's bicentenary year has yielded magnificent fruit, and it's not over yet.

Twenty-four hours after Pierre-Laurent Aimard unveiled his Liszt "project" at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Swiss pianist Andreas Haefliger delivered his take at the Wigmore Hall. And as with Aimard's concert, Haefliger's too coincided with the release of a CD: thus do live events and recordings reinforce one another.

From the opening chords of Années de Pèlerinage, Prémiere Année: Suisse it was clear how different Haefliger's approach was going to be. His sound in "La chapelle de Guillaume Tell" was luxuriantly rich, his pace leisurely in the extreme, with the lapidary grandeur of the music suggesting vast landscapes; he himself had a rock-like presence. But in the evocation of "Au Lac de Wallenstadt" there was something missing. Countess Marie d'Agoult, with whom Liszt had eloped and was living when he wrote this sequence, remembered him creating 'a melancholy harmony, imitative of the sigh of the waves and the cadence of the oars', but in Haefliger's playing there was no trace of that. Meanwhile, "Au bord d'une Source" was divested of its usual silken sheen.

On the other hand, "Orage" (storm) was as tempestuous as one could wish, with the madly whirling octaves and arpeggios suggesting roaring winds and waters: this was a reminder that in Liszt's time the fire and thunder of a piano recital had to provide all the thrills IMAX screens do today. Haefliger nicely caught the cello quality of the opening theme in "Vallée d'Obermann", and gave due weight to the cavernous silences of that piece. But there was a too-even quality in these intensely poetic works, and little of the characterisation Haefliger gives them on his Avie CD.

Schubert's late "Sonata" in G is a small miracle, with its translucent textures and seeming harmonic simplicity concealing the most subtle emotional narrative. And here, though his playing was clean and forceful, Haefliger completely missed the mark. All four movements passed at the same (loud) dynamic level, and time after time he skated over the drama waiting to be uncovered, the delicate mood-shifts and variations in timbre. It was Robert Schumann who said: 'Let him avoid the last movement who lacks the imagination to solve its riddles.' That would include Haefliger.