Classical: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Royal Festival Hall, London

Dispelling the chill
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The Independent Culture

The other day on Radio 3, the pianist Louis Lortie said he thought a recital should be rather more than a succession of pieces – more like an accumulative experience. And so it was with Pierre-Laurent Aimard's programme on Sunday afternoon. Aimard is well known for his fluency in Messiaen and Ligeti, but he is also recording (or has already recorded) all Beethoven's Piano Concertos with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and a good part of this recital was taken up with the classics.

Perhaps the organisers of the South Bank Harrods series were over optimistic in putting Aimard in the Festival Hall, for it was far from full. Yet after Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata, the small but enthusiastic crowd made enough noise with their applause to dispel the initial chill.

For Aimard had begun with Mozart's Adagio in B minor – a particularly searching piece, no less than 15 minutes long, which expresses a sense of the monumental in terms of distinct economy, with three important-sounding chords providing punctuation, as if to say "So, what next?" Earlier this season, Andrew Wilde chose the very same piece to open his Elizabeth Hall recital and had, in that space, a much easier job of holding his audience in thrall. If Aimard's well-groomed technical art appeared all too apparent, perhaps it wasn't his fault, but he certainly squeezed the music for every last drop of meaning.

His "Appassionata" was faultless, never mind the wrong left-hand harmony soon after a perfect, surreptitious opening, and the tempo of the middle movement was nicely judged, not too slow.

The matching opener by Mozart to the second half of the recital was the Andante for a miniature organ in a clock, all tootling in the treble, which Aimard painted in a toy-like sonority, halfway between the musical glasses and a clockwork musical box.

Which led nicely into Debussy's first book of Images. "Reflets dans l'Eau", the first piece, was easy and elegant; the chords of "Hommage à Rameau", the second piece, beautifully "voiced", or balanced; and "Mouvement", the last, joyous yet cool.

Gliding back on to the platform as if on wheels, Aimard launched Messiaen's first Ile de Feu before the clapping had ceased; still not a very familiar concert item, it was, for him, an old friend and he was thoroughly on top of its capricious mixture of violence and intellectual speculation. After its companion piece, Aimard pushed things just a bit too far with a performance of Regard de l'Esprit de Joie, which was so fast it was close to frantic. The second encore, Première Communion de la Vièrge, calmed us down nicely.

Next recital: Boris Berman, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1, 22 May

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