MUSIC / Open heart surgery: Adrian Jack on Kevin Kenner and Dmitry Bashkirov

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The Independent Culture
Anyone who didn't bother to stay and hear Kevin Kenner when he replaced the indisposed Rafael Orozco at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, last Sunday missed something special. Kenner is an American pianist living in London but, although he won the prestigious Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1990, and made his Wigmore Hall debut the following year, few people seem to have heard of him and he has so far been ignored by the record companies. They should take note that Kenner returns to the South Bank in November, because the recital revealed a pianist, not just with a brilliant technique, but also fine judgement, courage and depth of feeling.

His platform manner may have been gauche, his posture appalling, but I have never felt so close to the truth in Chopin's Ballades. He played all four of them in reverse order - which actually worked very well - and had the brilliant idea of prefacing the fourth with the C minor Nocturne, bringing in the faltering first sounds of the Ballade without a break, an inspired answer to a virtually insoluble problem, because that Ballade doesn't really begin, it somehow comes into being.

Which could also be said for the casual trill which opens Debussy's L'isle joyeuse. Kenner launched it like a dream: softly, as marked, and with perfect control. The whole piece shimmered as a blissful mirage, yet was full of precisely coloured details.

A dashing account of Liszt's Venezia e Napoli made an entertaining finale, but Liszt's arrangement of Schumann's Widmung, which Kenner added as an encore, showed his rarest asset: a big heart which opens freely.

In contrast, Dmitry Bashkirov marched on stage at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday as if he really meant business. A small man with brisk, impatient gestures, he showed decided views on playing the piano and perhaps it's fortunate that not all of them have rubbed off on his pupils, Dmitri Alexeev and Nikolai Demidenko. Bashkirov very effectively caught the capricious, brilliant elements of Schumann's early intermezzi and the mellow warmth of his second Romance. In Schumann's F sharp minor Sonata, he also characterised the chops and changes of the Scherzo with quite startling aplomb. But he was victim of his own excitability, both in the Sonata's long introduction, which was angry rather than imposing, and in the finale, where at several points he threw in the towel and settled for a jumble.

Bashkirov's nervousness (there were several lapses of memory) contrasted strongly with the ease of his action; while he was playing, he looked very comfortable, seated squarely on a chair rather than on the usual stool, his back straight, as if he were merely eating his dinner. Yet it wasn't just nerves that made him give such brittle rhythmic shaping to Chopin's Rondo in C minor and a group of Mazurkas. It was a style. And that was confirmed when, after some fury and fluster in three of Rachmaninov's Moments Musicaux, he recovered his poise in the first of several encores, an Andante by Mozart. Here he added so many inflections of his own that we lost all sight of the whole. It took us back to the days when no one thought simple music should be played simply.