Bernard Roberts 70th Birthday Recital, St John's, Smith Square, London

Bernard Roberts never shot to fame by winning a competition, nor covered himself in glory by standing in at short notice for an indisposed star, but he has certainly proved his staying power. I first came across him as a student when he was one of the youngest teachers at the Royal College of Music. It was many years before I heard him play, when after a tremendous performance of Beethoven's Eroica Variations at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the critic Peter Stadlen said to me: "Why haven't I heard of this man before?" Since then Roberts hasrecording all Beethoven's Piano Sonatas direct to disc.

It's in the Austro-German classics from Bach to Brahms that he has earned a reputation as a player of unusual honesty and power, and his 70th birthday recital last Friday drew from them exclusively.

The programme was not quite as predictable as that implies, for to start, Roberts chose a little-known Sonata in E major (No 31) by Haydn, written before the composer's more popular piano music. Far from making a dainty miniature of a piece that would originally have been played either on a harpsichord or on a small-toned early piano, Roberts projected it on a Steinway as generously as he would a piece from the 19th century. Never has piano tone filled St John's more surely, and the three-part texture of Haydn's second movement Allegretto sang out particularly boldly, yet without seeming forced.

Roberts chose to follow Haydn's pithy piece with Schubert's by-no-means pithy Sonata in D major, D850. It was a joyous relief when the first movement burst into life at a lively tempo that promised - and sustained - impetus without pomposity. As in Haydn, Roberts up-graded quiet passages so that they reached our ears clearly.

His way with Schubert's second movement was surprising, because he didn't mould it with the soothing "legato" most pianists apply here, but instead, made it firm and crisp, and observed Schubert's articulation marks punctiliously. Throughout its leisurely elaborations he maintained that basic firmness.

The finale doesn't confine itself to the innocent insouciance of its main theme, and one of the dramatically pugnacious episodes exposed a particular feature of Roberts's playing: a way of having his hand in position so that there was a slight hesitation after a jump to make sure of a safe landing.

This was to crop up again in the big work following the interval - Brahms's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel - and it made for slightly heavy going in the final variation, before the authentic sense of struggle in the fugue.

Roberts is not a colouristic pianist, and few would call Brahms that kind of composer, but sometimes I wanted sharper characterisation. You felt, at the end, rather as if you had eaten an extremely substantial, high-protein meal, and slightly ungrateful for missing something piquant by way of added savour.

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power