Music

Gianluca Cascioli International Piano Series Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
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The Independent Culture
Gianluca Cascioli is 16 and looks no older. Last autumn he won first prize in the Umberto Micheli International Piano Competition in Milan, which emphasises the music of Beethoven and the present century - apart from Maurizio Pollini, the jury also included Berio and Elliott Carter. Hence Cascioli's choice of music on Sunday afternoon: Beethoven and, not Berio or Carter, but Debussy, sometimes called the most deeply revolutionary of all 20th-century composers.

In the programme book, Cascioli said he picked Beethoven's two sonatas, Op 26 and Op 27 No 1, because of their crucial place in the 30-year-old composer's development, where he turned to explore new paths. True enough, but they are not the sort of works with which a young pianist can easily impress a new audience. Although Op 26 contains a splendid funeral march and Op 27 No 1 a substantial and vigorously argued finale, both have relatively low-profile first movements and limited opportunities for expressing extremes. Cascioli played them beautifully, with a great sense of security and ease, as well as the sort of mellow sagacity not readily associated with a 16- year-old. I could hardly believe my ears.

But in Debussy's first book of Preludes, which followed the interval, there could not be the slightest doubt that Cascioli was entirely prompted by his own imagination. This was playing not only of superlative technical finish, but real re-creation, in which the pianist seemed to identify completely with each piece and make it his own. Voiles was blissfully lazy, yet minutely precise in suggesting varied disturbances of an underlying calm. Le vent dans la plaine was exquisitely controlled, delicious-sounding, with its cracks of violence dead on target. The nuances of keyboard colour in Les sons et les parfums were perfectly judged, while Les collines d'Anacapri was a vivid tone picture of an Italian landscape and its associated sounds, almost tangibly evocative. Des pas sur la neige was more delicate than usual, neither ponderous nor sludgy, after which Cascioli created a hushed mood of muted threat at the start of Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest and built up from it tremendously.

His contrasts of touch in La serenade interrompue, now crisp, now velvety, matched his rhythmic precision, and he pinpointed exactly the illusion of nearness and distance. Then in La cathedrale engloutie, Cascioli captured a marvellous sense of watery motion, bell-like resonances and depth. La danse de Puck was the lightest, fleetest I have heard, and finally, in Minstrels, he drew a precise caricature, teasing out the entertainers' impudent swagger with calculated relish. Here is a Debussy player of remarkable perception, with all the technique to match.

This was the first piano recital in the South Bank's new series, and it introduced a video relay of the player's hands on a large screen placed behind the piano. That's fine - and it won't be done at all the recitals - but it's hard to consult the programme and impossible to follow a score when the house lights are off.

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