Gianluca Cascioli, Queen Elizabeth Hall, london

The boy wonder
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The Independent Culture

Gianluca Cascioli is a cool 21-year-old who looks like the brainy kid in a comic cartoon, the boy who can't help doing things with effortless brilliance. Slight and studious, he's a nice pianist to watch, because he's so comfortable with himself and every graceful gesture points up an expressive feature already vivid in his playing.

He rounded off Bach's "Partita No 2 in C minor" with an airy little wave of his left hand, as if he were conducting himself. The final Capriccio did sound as if it were played by a slightly loose ensemble, with lively independence of contrapuntal parts and relaxed coordination. This freedom was characteristic of Cascioli's playing throughout. He had chosen a Bösendorfer and made it sound like an early piano, with a light touch and minimal pedal, though he coloured every note differently. The Allemande and Courante were almost languid, with a freely fluctuating pulse, the Sarabande detailed though not contrived.

After Bach came six of Debussy's 12 "Etudes", the first five-finger piece poised with cool wit, then sinking into sensuous warmth. The octave study was less forceful than usual, yet it didn't seem weak, and the one for eight fingers slipped by as if there were nothing to it. In the study for contrasted sonorities Cascioli spread more chords than Debussy asked, though the effect seemed natural. His underplaying of the capriciousness in the middle of the study for compound arpeggios was less convincing. Yet, though he was reluctant to play loudly in the strong final study for chords, he obeyed Debussy's warning to avoid heaviness, and gave one of the least laboured performances of this perilous piece I have heard.

But Cascioli is no weakling, as he showed in Beethoven's "Eroica" Variations, though rather than aiming for architectural grandeur in a disciplined framework, he emphasised the delights of spontaneous invention, as if Beethoven were improvising before our very eyes and springing surprises of the most personal kind.

And only a pianist with an unusually personal outlook would have ended his programme with all 12 of Boulez's early "Notations" ­ studies in serialism which don't sound like it. It was a nice surprise when for his first encore Cascioli played the first of Schumann's three "Fantasy Pieces, Op 111", a rush of lyrical passion that offered just the right contrast.

The final recital in the South Bank Harrods series is given by Krystian Zimerman at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday. Booking: 020-7960 4242

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