Lucy Parham | Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Lucy Parham is still, for the sake of publicity, a "young" pianist, though past the stage when critics tend to be encouraging to a new talent. She was top pianist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1984 and made her Wigmore début in 1989. She could hardly have chosen a more delicious programme for her recital there on Tuesday, with Schumann's "Papillons" and G minor Sonata as the main works in the first half, and Rachmaninov's gorgeous six "Moments musicaux" ending the second.

To warm up, Parham began with Schubert's first Impromptu, striding through it firmly, without particular tonal blandishments. A straight player, you might have said to yourself, while reserving judgement.

For "Papillons" calls for much keener, quicker responses - the freedom of a butterfly, indeed - and didn't seem quite suited to Parham's nature. She underplayed dynamic contrasts, never really playing pianissimo, withholding accents, and was neither abandoned in the wilder numbers, nor confiding in the slower ones. It all sounded too unexcited, too sensible.

She did, however, prove that she had stamina, for she stayed the course in Schumann's G minor Sonata, a relentlessly driven piece, with only the second of its four movements offering a chance to relax. What was lacking in this tender lover song was the feeling of personal involvement, as if she really needed to sing it, though the return of the theme, cunningly embedded in its surrounding accompaniment, was nicely balanced.

In the first movement her right hand was not incisive enough, and there was insufficient energy charging the most rapid notes. There was a lack of wildness, too, in the scherzo, and why, in the finale, did she shrink from the accent on that electrifying chord just before the whirling coda?

Part two got better. It seemed connected by an aquatic theme, with a five-minute "Litany" by Anthony Herschel Hill darkly brooding over a slowly rocking motion. (It was inspired by Venice). Then into the dazzling vision of Debussy's "L'isle joyeuse" (inspired by a Watteau painting), which Parham sailed through with considerable energy.

She was best, and certainly most comfortable, in Rachmaninov's "Moments musicaux" (the first echoing that watery theme again), in which she gave herself up to the sonorous warmth of this big-boned and well-fleshed music, and made us feel much readier to face the wintry night outside.

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