MUSIC / A heavy with no punch: Adrian Jack on Mark Swartzentruber and the Vogler Quartet; plus the Lanza tribute

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The Independent Culture
The name may sound heavy, but the American pianist Mark Swartzentruber played in an unusually light style at the Wigmore Hall on Monday. Not only was his action relaxed, but his interpretations were straightforward to the point of being underweight. If you play Scarlatti on the piano, you need to make up for the loss of the harpsichord's percussive bite with some variety of articulation and colour, and the two sonatas that opened Swartzentruber's programme merely sounded bland.

He has just released a CD of two big Schubert sonatas - the C minor and A major. Which makes one wonder what qualities a major label like Sony Classical are seeking. For on Monday Swartzentruber wasn't always secure in the A major and relied on the pedal to compensate for a lack of legato and firm inner parts. After a bumpy start, the music unfolded with straightforward fluency, but there was an automatic feeling to the playing, and in the final movement Swartzentruber lost concentration and fluffed some of the most exciting elaborations as the music developed.

At least he didn't pretend to have much to say, and you could argue that he did nothing to stop Schubert speaking for himself. Similarly, he left the lines of Schumann's Kreisleriana as near as possible as Schumann drew them, though he gabbled the penultimate number. If you had wanted only to know how the piece went, then such a modest approach would have been admirable. But, after all, Kreisleriana is one of the great works of the piano repertoire, and you expect a professional performer not just to produce a sort of aural transfer, but to provide the colour and points of emphasis - all those dimensions which musical notation must leave to the imagination of the interpreter.

The evening ended with a shapely, though not always clean performance of Chopin's Andante spianato and Grande Polanaise, followed by a Chopin study (Opus 10 No 7) and another Scarlatti sonata as encores, They did nothing but confirm an overall impression which was pleasant but shallow.

Although the Vogler Quartet's recorded reputation preceded them, these accomplished young Berliners attracted only a small audience to the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday. To their credit, they chose an unhackneyed programme, beginning with Haydn's last completed quartet, Opus 77 No 2 (not his best known), followed by Gyorgy Kurtag's early Quartet, Opus 1, and Schumann's third, in A major.

The Kurtag made the most powerful impression. The six short movements distil an original synthesis of Bartok and Webern, concentrating on colourful techniques like harmonics, glissandos and pizzicato without straining after effect for its own sake.

The Vogler put the work over with great confidence, which they didn't show to the same degree in Schumann. In both outer movements of the A major Quartet they took unconvincing liberties with tempo: in the finale, they should either have marked the clearly defined sections with equally definite adjustments of speed, or else have kept to a constant pulse - in fact, Schumann indicated nothing else.

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