Igor Tchetuev, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Igor Tchetuev - ethnically Russian, born in the Ukraine but currently living and studying in Germany - won fourth prize in last month's Leeds Piano Competition. Second-, third- and fourth-prizewinners have not infrequently turned out to be more interesting pianists than first-prizewinners at Leeds, and in this year's competition at least two very interesting pianists, Yevgeny Sudbin and Inon Barnatan, didn't get as far as the finals.

On his showing at the Wigmore Hall, I wouldn't classify Tchetuev as highly individual, but he is undoubtedly a natural, red-blooded player who is at home in a good cross-section of the repertoire. He opened with a very forthright, no-nonsense performance of Bach's Italian Concerto, using primary colours in the outer movements, gentle yet firm in the central Andante. Nothing controversial here.

Schubert's great C minor Sonata opened up more imaginative vistas. The first movement was strong without being as demonstrative as you might expect from a tiro, but it was sustained with a sure sense of tension, the serpentine menace of its development nicely suggested, and the closing stages sensitively graduated. In the Adagio, Tchetuev might have allowed more generous pauses to enhance what was already expressive. A slight case of skimping. The brief Minuet (a misleading title for such a personal, almost whimsical movement) was perfectly judged, and in the finale, travelling often unpredictably over its tee-rum-tee-tum rhythm, Tchetuev allowed himself to follow where Schubert led without protest.

So far, the 23-year-old hadn't fully revealed himself. With the best-known of all Scriabin's piano pieces, the early Etude in C sharp minor, he was in his element. He played it like a master, beginning quite casually but uncovering a wealth of expressive detail as he went with perfect naturalness. He was equally compelling in two of the Op 8 Etudes, and dignified the tumultuous G sharp minor piece, the ninth of the set, by keeping strength in reserve.

In Prokofiev's epic Sixth Sonata (his party piece at Leeds), Tchetuev brought out the big guns. And yet he didn't bludgeon us. In the first movement, for instance, his attack had a precisely honed sonority, not just brute force, and he was sensitive to the diaphanous textures of the quieter passages. The wry charm of the Allegretto second movement was caught, and the strangely sludgy textures not allowed to bog down the following Waltz. The finale was as devastating as it should be and yet, while Tchetuev's brow was noticeably wetter at the end than it had been at the beginning, you felt he could easily have played it all over again.

Instead, as encores, he gave us one of Prokofiev's gentler Visions fugitives, the famous Liszt Liebestraum, and - crisp and clean - the F major Study from Chopin's Op 10 set.

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