Music; Gerhard Oppitz Wigmore Hall, London

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The German pianist Gerhard Oppitz dedicated his Friday evening recital at the Wigmore Hall to the memory of his teacher, Wilhelm Kempff, who died in 1991 at the age of 95. The longest-lived of the great pianists after Horszowski (who died two years later, a month short of 101), Kempff would have reached his century last November. Oppitz took over Kempff's famous masterclasses at the Neapolitan resort of Positano, and still takes the courses there each year. What Kempff taught him, he wrote in the programme, was to "shake off my rigidity and create different layers and textures in my playing".

Nobody would expect Oppitz to sound like Kempff, who was too individual a player to imitate. But after this recital you might well have found yourself wondering what qualities Kempff found to admire.

Oppitz began with four of Kempff's arrangements of chorale-based movements from Bach cantatas, beginning with Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, most famous in Myra Hess's version. He played them amply but, one after the other, they became ponderous.

Then he went on to Beethoven's "Tempest" Sonata, Op 32 No 1. In the first movement, Beethoven pits stormy impetuousness against declamatory musings in which time stands still. Or should - for here, there was a distinct sense of time pressing uneasily. Nor, in the slow central movement, was there real continuity of sense - the impression was of fractured statements loosely connected by a blur created by the pedal. Over-pedalling plagued the whole sonata, and though Beethoven's liquid, transparent finale sang, for the most part, freely of its own accord, it was spoilt by occasional exaggerated points of emphasis, such as a gratuitously highlighted inner part shortly before the final page.

Although Wilhelm Kempff's repertoire ranged far beyond the Austro-German classics, those are what he was particularly identified with, and, after the interval, Oppitz played Schubert's very last Sonata, in B flat. (The recording Kempff made in his early seventies is still in the catalogue.) The opening movement could be called the ultimate musical expression of serenity, though periodically it is clouded by a murky trill in the bass register. Oppitz characterised the trill like a distant roll of thunder. The rest was not so good, because he pulled the rhythm about just a bit too much, and frustrated the flow.

Yet, to his credit, he tried to sustain the spell cast by the work as a whole by playing all four movements virtually without breaks in between. The slow second movement started simply and sagely, but Oppitz lost his concentration and focus by fussing over the middle section. He too rarely dared to be simple. The Scherzo would have been much better if he had not prolonged the first note of its main theme, as if tugging at the listener's ear. The Finale went happily until, at the stormy outbreaks, Oppitz strangled his tone - not so much out of artistic as technical discretion.

As an encore, he played Brahms's Intermezzo in E flat, Op 117 No 1. If it is possible to transform such an intimate, consoling piece - a lullaby broken by dark dreams - into something pompous and overblown, then Oppitz succeeded. Such heavy underlining presupposed that no individual in an audience of a few hundred could respond in the ideal way to music as tender and personal as this. Sad, if it were really true.

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