The 18-year-old Uzbek pianist Bezhod Abduraimov powered his way through last year’s London International Piano Competition as though plugged into some mystical mains.
His delivery of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto was electrifyingly physical, combining liberated exuberance with astonishing technical control. This Wigmore recital was one of the spoils of victory, and much was riding on it.
Opening with Chopin’s 24 Preludes, he demonstrated from the start a rare capacity to characterise these variegated tone-poems, each of which is a world in itself. His sound was big and firm, but wonderfully yielding when the occasion demanded; each piece was fastidiously shaped, segueing without pause into the next. He delivered the ballroom grace of the seventh as an answer to the joyous whirl which had preceded it; the ‘Raindrop’ prelude became a gentle landscape of receding and advancing perspectives, while the ‘Presto con fuoco’ which followed was a dazzling display of high-octane virtuosity. The concluding ‘Allegro appassionato’ lived ferociously up to its name. Everything reflected crystal-clear intention, everything felt fresh.
Next came a piece which most pianists won’t risk their necks with: Vladimir Horowitz’s pyrotechnical embellishments on Liszt’s elaboration of Saint-Saens’s satanic ‘Danse macabre’. Yet the way Abduraimov hurled these fistfuls of notes around, he might have been taking a stroll in the park. And a thought arose: could this fresh-faced child be a new Horowitz?
The next piece in his programme arrived like a googly, in the form of the rarely-performed ‘Capriccio on the Departure of his Beloved Brother’ by an 18-year-old JS Bach, which actually sounded more like Couperin. The only purpose of this strange piece of programme-music seemed to be to let us see how Abduraimov handled the Baroque mode. (Answer: less comfortably than Romantic mode.) Finally he let rip with a stunning performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No 6, and we were reminded why he won that competition: with the music of this fundamentally heartless composer, he convinces his audience through sheer artistry.
His first encore was a short Tchaikovsky piece played with disarming expressiveness. His second - aha! - was Horowitz’s vertiginous ‘Carmen Fantasy’, in a performance so massively accomplished that the entire hall - despite not being used to doing such things - rose to its feet. Bezhod Abduraimov, who takes his bow with both hands modestly on heart, is a quintessential showman, but of the greatest refinement. And he just might be the new Horowitz.