Yoshikazu Jumei rarely gives piano recitals in the West, and the Wigmore was packed with a largely Japanese audience, due no doubt to the fact that the proceeds would go towards helping the victims of the 2011 tsunami.
Opening with Brahms’s Variations on an original Theme Opus 21 No 1, he brought out the bass sonorities with a suitably weighty touch and, trading on the angular ruggedness of the harmonies, let this understated work unfold at a leisurely pace.
He adopted a similar strategy with Schumann’s Humoreske Opus 20, whose ideas have an improvisatory momentum. In its kaleidoscope of moods, Schumann’s rasch (rapid) and immer lebhafter (increasing lively) came over convincingly, but there was no hint of his zart (tender) or innig (inward): was Jumei simply too tense to respond to the composer’s instructions? I guess so, because with the final work in his programme, Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin Opus 22, the shading and ornamentation were handled with such grace and charm that one could at last see why this man is such a big pianistic voice in his native Japan. Three encores followed – virtuoso pieces by Godowsky – which set the seal on things: this initially dour creature had come out as an entertainer.
But when the young Norwegian pianist Christian Ihle Hadland took the stage the next day, one could hardly believe it was with the same piano.
As he played Mozart’s final sonata and Schubert’s penultimate one, his dishevelled appearance, ill-fitting suit, and joke-professor mannerisms were belied by his wonderfully controlled and expressive sound.
With its opening horn-motif followed by pearlised runs, the first movement of Mozart’s K576 set up an intimately singing tone which was maintained throughout; the intricate counterpoint was brilliantly delineated.
The Adagio was restrained but exquisite, and the finale was a celebration of sparkling vigour. But if this was as good as it gets in Mozart pianism, what Hadland did with Schubert’s Sonata in A D959 was remarkable.
In his hands the initial Allegro – which usually seems labyrinthine – had pellucid clarity; to the problematic Andantino, whose plangent barcarole is broken by the anguished musical equivalent of a nervous breakdown, he brought an underlying – and unifying - calm.
The joyful disintegration of the Rondo’s Lied-like theme made a magical conclusion to this Olympian performance (to be rebroadcast on Radio 3 this Saturday.)