Heritage of Russian Pianism, Oriental Club, London

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The Independent Culture

London being the classical-music capital of the world, success there is the goal of every aspiring soloist, but the going has never been so tough. The British Music Yearbook lists 663 pianists vying for attention, of whom only a small minority make a living from their performances.

The rest either teach, or play for hoofers, or taxi-drive, or quietly go mad. A pianist's lot is not (in many cases) a happy one.

Hence the usefulness – to players of one nation – of a scheme which Nakako Watanabe first launched in Tokyo, and has now transferred to London. The Heritage of Russian Pianism series aims to give neglected players a platform, and members of the piano fraternity (plus potential sponsors) are accordingly bidden to the Victorian opulence of the Oriental Club to hear it.

First up is Igor Kamenz, whose already substantial career has included spells as a violinist and conductor, and who begins with Schumann's intensely inward "Widmung". The runs seem unevenly weighted, and the chords raggedly sustained: is this the fault of the piano, a big Bluthner which must be at least 80 years old? He finds a broadly singing tone for Liszt's arrangement of Wagner's "Liebestod", but the climax is marred by an ornate gilt clock striking the hour above him. Flunkeys rush to remove it before he launches into Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata, but it and the mantelpiece are not to be separated. Though rough at the edges, and in rather mannered form, Beethoven comes through before the next quarter strikes.

Then it's the turn of Amir Tebenikhin, with Liszt's Sonata in B flat. As the opening phrases roll grandly out, we realise that the piano is a decent one, and that this young Kazakh is really something. His velvet touch brings out all the poetry in this passionate work, and he shapes its surging contours with total assurance; the fugue has ringing authority, and the dying falls re-echo through the vast landscape he has created. His Bach encore has exemplary sweetness and clarity.

Mrs Watanabe also tells us that one reason she has set up this series is because concerts in churches don't get critical attention. In these columns in the weeks to come, I shall remedy that situation.

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