Ivan Moravec | Queen Elizabeth Hall; Mark Swartzentruber | Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Some piano teachers used to put a penny on the back of their pupils' hands to stop them moving up and down. Some may well still do that. Ivan Moravec looked very much as if he had learnt that way. A stiff player, he nevertheless caught the urgency of the first movement in Janacek's Sonata "1.x.1905", though in the second movement he struck a prosaic tempo that inhibited the essential feeling of being poised on a precipice. The music sat down and refused to rouse itself. Still, he did some lovely things in Janacek's later cycle, In the Mists, particularly in the first and third movements, with their evocative sense of distance and retrospection.

Perhaps one shouldn't make too much of the fact that Moravec once attended Michelangeli's master classes, yet his calculated, aloof treatment of Haydn's D major Sonata, Hoboken 37, recalled the marmoreal Italian's super-cool emphasis on mechanical perfection. Despite which, Moravec's right hand wasn't always as efficient as it should have been, and in Chopin's 24 Preludes it was sometimes downright lazy, with a weak attack in the stormy G minor and D minor pieces at the end of the cycle.

There were many good things on the way, though - in particular, a beautifully shaped left-hand melody in the slow B minor Prelude, a subtly suspended "Raindrop", and the chorale-like C minor piece, in which the forthright chords were given a commanding sweep. At the age of 69, experience evidently counted for a lot, yet with so little spontaneity or freedom evident, Moravec's style seemed more like craft than art.

By contrast, the American-born pianist Mark Swartzentruber, who now lives in London, seemed much simpler, freer and more relaxed. His programme was divided between Scarlatti and Beethoven. In Scarlatti he was a bit too fond of marking the ends of sections or movements by slowing down. But otherwise his approach was straightforward and light-fingered, understated but with quite enough dynamic contrast.

He played Beethoven's "simple" Op 79 Sonata buoyantly, and introduced expressively elastic rhythm for the first time in its central Andante - there had been no need for it earlier in the evening. In the first movement of the Appassionata he did justice to the stormy dynamic extremes within a controlled framework - no heavy sweating, yet still powerful. A momentary licence with the pulse in the theme of the slow movement was perhaps questionable, but in all other respects it was a model "classical" performance.

On this evidence, Swartzentruber is not a player of great individuality, but he's not insensitive and makes a nice sound.