Filippo Gamba, Wallace Collection, London

Mildly mannered precision
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

This autumn's series of Sunday-morning recitals at the Wallace Collection has been shorter than usual, but each concert has sold out. Since Hannah Horovitz, the artistic director, started the venture in 1997, she has done particularly well with pianists. The talent she has netted includes names that have since proved themselves not only on the concert circuit but on CD and radio – Bernd Glemser, Ashley Wass, Alexandre Tharaud and George-Emmanuel Lazaridis.

The Italian Filippo Gamba, heard last Sunday, is 34 and has done the round of the big international competitions, winning the Geza Anda competition two years ago. But even without this recommendation, his authority was evident after merely a few moments of Schumann's Arabesque. It has the gentlest of openings, and it seemed, in Gamba's hands, to arise out of a deep sense of calm, though he took the coda so broadly, it came almost to a standstill.

Perhaps that was why he broke short the applause by plunging impatiently into the first of Brahms's Op 116 Fantasies. An effective shock. The second piece was all, or nearly all, soothing calm and secrecy, the third very grand and passionate. So far so splendid. But why, in the slumberous fourth piece, did he bend the opening triplet into a dactylic rhythm each time it recurred? Some musicians just cannot play triplets evenly, though Gamba proved he could in the closing bars. The intimate stealth of the fifth piece was beautifully caught, though the simplicity of the sixth just a bit marred by mannered rhythmic distortions. The last of the Fantasies was whipped into a fine fury.

After Brahms's moody contrasts, the final work in the recital restored a sense of calm. All four movements of Beethoven's Pastoral Sonata, Op 28, have the same keynote, the very fact of which makes for stability, though D major becomes D minor in the haunting Andante. Here, Gamba judged perfectly the contrast between right-hand phrasing and left-hand staccato. Precisely balancing parts, or "voices", against each other was one of his strengths throughout the recital, but in the sonata's outer movements, he put too little trust in the longer line, and resorted too often to local emphasis, prolonging a note here and there, which came to appear like a professional mannerism.