Classical Music Review: Francois Frederic Guy St John's Smith Square, L ondon

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The Independent Culture
Francois Frederic Guy is a 26-year-old French pianist who introduced himself to a very small audience at St John's Smith Square on Tuesday evening. Nothing daunted, he played as if the place were full, like one inspired. Apparently, Guy is known for his transcriptions, and he gave Liszt's Vallee d'Obermann the grandeur and richness of an orchestral tone poem, which in a sense it is. His legato was seamless, each note melting into its neighbour, and he brought to this fulsome music, which can sometimes sound hectoring and clamorous, the fervour of blind faith, making you believe it was sublime.

Beethoven's Opus 109 Sonata is, by comparison, an understatement - the sobriety and conciseness of a composer who has fought many long battles in the past. Guy kept the first movement flowing, enhancing its character as a prelude. But he opened fire in the second movement, while distancing its quieter sections with a sense of the transcendent beyond. He introduced a lot of shading in the theme of the final variations, gilding the lily rather, though the contrasts among the variations themselves were impressive and ranged from furious energy to serenity. It's not easy to give the profoundly positive quality of this music its due value - it's played so often that it has become over familiar. Ideally, perhaps, the Sonata should come at the end of a programme, yet Guy's performance in no way sold it short.

After the interval, it was back to the overstatement of comparative youth, with Brahms's Sonata No 3 in F. Schumann described Brahms's early sonatas as "veiled symphonies", and because of Guy's technical ease, which allowed him to take the considerable pianistic hurdles in his stride, and also because of his feeling for the magisterial formal perspectives to which Brahms aspired (however much he, Brahms, stumbled in reaching towards them) - because of this architectural sense, Guy invited you to dress the thing up mentally in orchestral colours, transforming the strain of its textures and disguising the awkwardness of its transitions in the sumptuous warmth of a work like the First Symphony. He didn't sit back and expand his belly in the first movement - his Brahms may have been a heavyweight, but he was fit and agile, too. The most sheerly beautiful playing came where it was most called for, in the slow second movement, which started in a spirit of unobtrusive modesty, as if the music just wafted in on the breeze, and reached, in the final section - so reluctant to come to an end - a hushed intensity swelling to an effulgent climax that was ineffable.

As if that weren't enough, Guy ended the evening with wave upon wave of quasi-orchestral ecstasy in Isolde's Liebestod. Magnificent playing. Go and hear him, if you can, at St John's tomorrow evening, when his second London recital includes more Beethoven and Liszt, as well as Debussy, Scriabin and Bartok.

n Tomorrow, 7.30pm. Booking: 0171-222 1061