PIANO RECITALS Sa Chen, John Bingham WH, London Evgeny Kissin RFH, London

It seems a bit cheeky to begin a piano recital with Beethoven's Op 110 Sonata - you expect it to have the last word. Sa Chen, placed fourth in the last Leeds Competition, has studied entirely in China and, on a certain level, the understanding of the work she showed in her UK debut recital at the Wigmore Hall on Thursday 20 February was remarkable. It was intelligent and sensitive, though it did not convey the weight of experience or awareness of how hard won Beethoven's serenity was. How could it? you might ask. Well, there are very young and very exceptional players who convey greater emotional intensity than she does.

Sa Chen is a good technician and has stamina. Liszt's Feux follets, a Rachmaninov Etude tableau (Op 39 No 5) and Stravinsky's exciting early Etude in F sharp, followed close on each other's heels and did nothing to unsettle her balance, after which she attacked Liszt's Rapsodie espagnole with spirit and accuracy. In the second half she relaxed and enjoyed all the colouristic opportunities provided by two rather kitschy arrangements of Chinese melodies - rhapsodic and lurid scene paintings. But there was no undue indulgence in Sa Chen's energetic performance of Schumann's Carnaval, in which she flew at the enthusiastic numbers and did the more poetic ones with natural simplicity. It was nice to hear one of these, "Chopin", repeated as her third encore, even if the added top note was a bit naughty, just to show she had ended.

On Tuesday, John Bingham celebrated the 30th anniversary of his Wigmore debut with a programme of Haydn's Sonata in C, Hob50, Beethoven's "Eroica" Variations and a second half of Chopin. He's a very composed performer and moves no more than he need. Nor is he emotionally demonstrative - it was almost as if he were playing to himself. But he is intelligent, sensitive and thoughtful - you felt drawn into the music and the large audience responded warmly. If the big moments in Chopin's First and Fourth Ballades didn't exactly soar, Bingham compensated with precision and delicacy in their perilous codas and found all kinds of subtle voicings in the Nocturne, Op 27 No 2, as well as in the Waltz, Op 42.

Schumann's Aufschwung was the second of Evgeny Kissin's encores at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday, and soar it certainly did. No pianist projects with more passion than he does and in Liszt's La campanella he inspired the amazement that Liszt's first audience must have felt at such dazzling novelty. If Kissin is altogether superhuman in sustaining intensity throughout the most demanding programme (Chopin's four Ballades, Schumann's Kreisleriana and Toccata), it's nice to know he's also human enough to split the occasional climactic note, as he did at the start of Kreisleriana. But then he risked everything, playing as if in a trance, so that you almost wondered how he could find his feet to walk off the platform. He defies criticism.

Adrian Jack

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