MUSIC / Gentle stroll: Adrian Jack on Mikhail Rudy at the Wigmore Hall, London

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Tall and debonair, Mikhail Rudy is not perhaps our usual image of a Russian pianist. Since 1977 he has lived partly in Paris, and it would be easy to picture him as the perfect boulevardier. That does not altogether fit with his style of playing, though it is elegant and polished, and certainly neither rugged nor intense. He chose a very enjoyable and revealing programme on Wednesday night, balanced between exquisite small-scale pieces and large-scale works demanding virtuosity and stamina.

Brahms's three Intermezzi, Op 117, are easy to associate with the hushed introspection of twilight. They're almost secretive: things to play to oneself. It is not easy to convey that character in the frank and resonant acoustic of the Wigmore Hall, and Rudy really made no attempt at it.

His sound was bright and lean, and he played in a forthright though relaxed fashion, which wasn't exactly wrong, though it made little of the potential mystery of some of the most malleable music in the repertoire. More critically, he phrased the pieces by the bar, persistently prolonging the first beat as if by a formula, so that longer lines were perforated.

No such problem affected Brahms's Handel Variations, because their phrase structure is deliberately square and formal, even archaic. The interest lies in inventive pattern-making within that framework. It is pattern-making which in turn exercises the pianist's athleticism and control of nuance.

Rudy did not stretch himself in either direction unduly, and although he was thoroughly on top of the music's technical difficulties, his attack and rhythm were not as incisive as they might have been in the vigorous variations; nor was his quiet playing ideally delicate in the others. He steered a middle course and the sum effect was less than exciting. The second half was planned rather like the first, with four Debussy Studies - quite as musically challenging as Brahms's Intermezzi - followed by Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit. Ravel's Pavane pour une Infante defunte came in between.

The first Debussy Study, a sort of satirical caprice based on five-finger exercises, was striking, and Rudy made the most of its rude surprises. He didn't find the same imaginative opportunities in the Study for eight fingers, which he played all medium loud and louder, nor in the Studies for fourths and sixths, and the first positively hushed playing of the evening arrived, belatedly, in the middle of Ravel's Pavane.

But the most remarkably sustained and captivating playing - the sort which makes you drink deep and long - came in 'Le Gibet', the central piece of Gaspard de la Nuit, where the desolate, tolling church bell clanged cold and heedless through the dark and slowly swirling phrases round it.

The chilly frissons of 'Ondine' and the horrendous shadows of 'Scarbo' were not, perhaps, as coldly exciting as ideally they might have been, but then most of us have grown comparatively numb to sensation, and Rudy's command of the technical difficulties was sure enough to make us forget them.

As if that was not enough exertion for one night, he added three challenging encores - an incisive Prokofiev Prelude, a smouldering Scriabin Etude, and the Russian Dance from Stravinsky's Petrushka - all of which he dispatched with a deceptive sense of ease.

Imogen Cooper gives the next Wigmore Hall International Piano recital on 5 Feb. Box office: 071-935 2141