MUSIC / Age before beauty: Adrian Jack reviews Anya Alexeyev at the Wigmore Hall

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The Independent Culture
It's odd how many young pianists seem to choose Beethoven's Op 109 Sonata. Its difficulties aren't spectacular, but its outer movements glow with a mellow wisdom that most young players, however remarkable, can hardly be expected to command.

Anya Alexeyev, who studied in both Moscow and London, played it really beautifully at the start of her recital on Friday. She lacked intensity in the prestissimo second movement, but everything else was perfectly judged. She did not force the contrasts of the first movement and shaped them with subtle naturalness. Yet she was no exception to the rule that the fullness of character, the authority that transforms these deceptively modest sounds into something sublime, comes only with years of experience.

Schumann's passionate G minor Sonata is much more a young person's music, although many pianists fail to find the necessary stamina to bring it off. Alexeyev had plenty of stamina, even if in the first movement her left hand contributed too little weight in some of the big chords. She didn't give the two short middle movements as much life as the big outer ones - the Andantino might have been more ecstatic and the Scherzo a bit wilder - but few pianists would have given a more convincing account of this underrated masterpiece as a whole. For all the conventional wisdom about Schumann's weakness in larger forms, every movement of this sonata finds him at his most inspired.

After the interval, Alexeyev played four of Debussy's Studies, beginning with the extremely difficult one for arpeggios (but not quite the sort you learn for Associated Board exams). She took it at a very deliberate tempo and started almost boldly in defiance of Debussy's request to be sweet and caressing. She also fell short of the piece's playfulness and did scant justice to the capriciousness of the Study for repeated notes. Both pieces sounded too measured, as if she were still getting to know them.

But the Study for fourths was more fluent and therefore more evocative, while Alexeyev delivered Debussy's final Study, with its sturdy chords and octaves jumping athletically, with absolute security. A few more performances, a bit more sense of daring, and it will be really exciting.

All these pieces, it must be said, are supreme challenges of interpretation as well as technically very difficult. To end, Alexeyev shrewdly chose a real barnstormer, Liszt's Dante Sonata. Here she conjured up the horrors of Hell, as well as Liszt's slightly flimsy glimpse of Heaven, with great relish and bravura. The audience gave her a well- deserved ovation.

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