Fazil Say, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

The Turkish pianist Fazil Say (pronounced "Sigh", despite what Radio 3's Stephanie Hughes thinks) gave his first London recital at the Wigmore Hall in 1998. He certainly made an impression, but it wasn't altogether favourable - perhaps he was a loose cannon and excitingly unpredictable, or perhaps he was just a musical lout. Should he be concentrating on jazz, or his own compositions?

Well, believing that musicians should stick to one field makes life simpler for those who hold such a belief, but it is merely a form of snobbery. As for Fazil Say's musical loutishness, he inspired new respect as a pianist of considerable character when he partnered that far from self-effacing violinist Maxim Vengerov at the Barbican earlier this year.

And all credit to the South Bank for letting Say play a programme that began with three Haydn Sonatas and included one of his own pieces. This didn't deter the audience, which almost filled the hall and included a large Turkish contingent.

Say's platform manner is idiosyncratic, true to his jazz affiliations. He sat, slouched, on a strange swivelling stool, and often conducted himself when a hand was free. He also hummed along a lot, rather too loudly in some of the Haydn Sonatas, which were all short, with the repeats selectively observed. The opening movement of the C major Sonata was almost brutally brisk, with a saucy little ornithological cadenza added before the recapitulation - a nice touch. The first movement of the E major Sonata, was also fast - rather too fast for the florid passages to sound comfortable, and in the central Allegretto movement, Say's coordination of hands was casual, though that was obviously intended. Again, in the A flat Sonata, he rattled through the outer movements with a punchy touch that might have seemed callous had he not scored some humorous points with emergency breaking in the finale.

Ravel's Sonatine made a nice complement to follow, and was fluid almost to the point of being sloppy: almost, but not quite. The effect of rolled chords and supple rhythm in the central Minuet was like lapping water, while the final movement rippled with a light, pearly sound. At least it wasn't frigid.

Say's own piece, Black Earth, was quite short, opening ominously in the bass, waxing moody with the strings inside the piano plucked in imitation of the saz, a traditional Turkish instrument, which fused with juicy Western harmonies to make an effective bit of ear-tickling.

The recital's second half was taken up with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, in which Say reorganised the composer's own piano-duet version, prerecording one part, which was played back like a pianola by a computerised mechanism attached to the belly of his Bösendorfer, while he played the other part live. The keyboard was projected by a small camera on to a screen, so we could see how Say's fingers moved above, below and between the keys moving at the machine's dictate: an intriguing spectacle and something of a technical tour de force.

The audience loved it, and got another bit of Turkish delight as a bonne bouche, followed by some Mozart variations, but we were left with a rather incomplete idea of Fazil Say as a "classical" pianist. How, you might wonder, would he play Chopin?

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