Janina Fialkowska, Cadogan Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Comeback concerts can be queasy affairs. Rolando Villazon took over the Festival Hall for his return after an operation on his vocal cords and the critics tore him to shreds.

When Leon Fleisher plays in Aldeburgh next week, everyone will want to know if botox treatment has cured the crippling dystonia which has long bedevilled this great pianist.

Janina Fialkowska's story is more poignant. After a glittering start, with Artur Rubinstein declaring her his successor, and an acclaimed run as an exponent of Mozart and Chopin, she was halted by a tumour in her left arm. Muscles had to be removed. She fought back, playing concertos with her right hand. Then, in three successive years, cancer came back in other places, requiring surgery. Three years on, this Chopin recital marked her re-emergence.

Opening with the gracefully episodic "Polonaise in C minor", she produced clean melodic lines, perfectly weighted chords and a sense of repose. In the "Ballade" which followed the beauty was understated, though small falterings suggested the tension she must have felt, with three video cameras added to the eyes of the audience. The dreamy "Waltz in C sharp minor" was unpoetically brisk, but the "Grande Valse Brillante" had exuberant, heel-clicking ceremony. And in the "Nocturne in B major" her voice rang out: the unfolding melody was like a story being told, with the sudden fortissimo scales coming like a hurricane from the blue. The alternating textures in this mysterious work were sketched with a very poetic hand.

This was a fascinating recital, if also nerve-racking. Fialkowska's tempo in the second "Scherzo" was so fast that she lost it before making an expert recovery. Her desire to prove herself led her to take dizzy risks in the massive "Sonata in B minor" but the force, mercifully, was with her. Having demonstrated her virtuosity, she should relax and let her natural expressiveness take her where it will.

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