Cristiano Burato/ Vladimir Ovchinnikov | Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Chopin's Andante Spianato & Grand Polonaise Brillante must be one of his most difficult works to bring off. The problem in the Polonaise is to hold firm the stately dance rhythm while allowing the abundant decoration Chopin laid over it to blossom. Cristiano Burato almost succeeded in his Wigmore Hall recital, but pushed the tempo a little too hard, so that the effect was a bit breathless and not ideally transparent. Yet the expressive impulse was strong throughout, and spontaneous warmth lit up his recital.

Burato won overall second prize and the special Chopin Prize at the last London Piano Competition in 1997, and he lived up to that distinction with a really masterly performance of Chopin's "Funeral March" Sonata, even though he took the first movement repeat from the wrong point. He sustained the dramatic urgency of the first two movements and shaped their lyrical contrasts beautifully, if occasionally allowing too much rhythmic slack. And in the first half of the programme, his Ravel was unusually mellow and relaxed. Good for him, too, opening boldly with a substantial recent work - Franco Donatoni's Françoise Variations (1996), whose elegant economy he presented with affectionate finesse.

Last Sunday, Vladimir Ovchinnikov, winner of the 1987 Leeds Piano Competition, offered a programme that was not only a test of stamina, but also coherently thought through. Busoni's great arrangement of Bach's violin Chaconne was followed by Liszt's six Transcendental Studies after Paganini's violin Caprices. Then in the second half, Brahms's monumental Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel were preceded by Handel's Suite in B flat, the work that gave Brahms his theme.

Ovchinnikov is an immaculate performer with impeccable taste and a sense of deep repose, even when confronted by the most extravagant technical demands. He seems totally without vanity. He took all Liszt's bravura in his stride, and exposed La campanella so scrupulously, it prompted a spontaneous burst of applause, which he acknowledged gracefully before continuing. In Brahms, it was the sheer wealth of character, as well as intellectual energy, that took priority over physical excitement, though there was that, too.

Ovchinnikov's two encores - a Bach/Busoni chorale arrangement and Liszt's Un sospiro - rounded off perfectly a deeply satisfying recital.

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