MUSIC : Quiet please

Fou Ts'ong Wigmore Hall, London
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The Independent Culture
Fou Ts'ong ended his piano recital on Thursday with the wistful, waltz-like epilogue from Schumann's Davidsbndlertnze. It made a nice good-night, particularly since he had botched the piece earlier in the evening. This time, Fou Ts'ong negotiated the mercurial switches of mood and many treacherous moments with skill, yet he seems to have become a very loud player, as well as a great grunter. There wasn't much inwardness, no real piano, in the second piece and, when it was recalled later, he lapsed into lazy and sentimental rubato. There were other moments when he lost poise, too; the chuckling G major piece in the second half of the cycle doesn't need a pause on the first chord - it destroys the throwaway quality which makes the thing so magical. It's a disappointing trick, too, to play safe in the slow G minor piece by taking each top note of exposed left-hand chords with the right: the dramatic dialogue of the hands is removed, and the sound is not the same.

Chopin's 24 Preludes after the interval went with more confidence. There was a strong sense of their sweeping continuity as a group, which is how Chopin planned them. There wasn't much conventional salon-playing here, and Chopin himself would never have played so loudly (his listeners sometimes complained they could hardly hear him). Yet there's power in the music, and the slow E minor piece didn't suffer by being delivered strongly, for it was sensitively shaped. "Raindrop" seemed an even sillier nickname for the D flat Prelude than usual, but it was still expressive, and the accented bass notes which punctuate the receding moments of the A flat Prelude at regular intervals, though they may be played quietly by most pianists, sounded more effective as half-muted explosions, like distant guns. At the end of the solemn C minor Prelude, Fou Ts'ong brought out the alto and allowed the top part to shadow it like descant - a lovely and unusual touch which also has thematic justification. He then had the sensitivity to pause before the next Prelude, respecting its change of mood.

Not everything was so good - the fluttering C sharp minor Prelude was certainly not leggiero ("light") as marked, and the furious G sharp minor Prelude was rough and over-pedalled; but the playing was big, unaffected and carried authority.

The very best thing of the evening, though, was Mozart's Rondo in A minor. Taken at a fluent pace and not squeezed for pathos, it was both delicate and touching. And, at the end of an evening without many real pianissimi, it was balm to the ears.

Adrian Jack

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