Naida Hall, Wigmore Hall, London

A fiery, exotic elegance
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The Independent Culture

A full-page advertisement in the programme book for Naida Cole's Wigmore Hall recital last Friday announced her "beautiful new album" that contains "an evocative collection of piano pieces by great French masters, including the hypnotic Gymnopédies of Erik Satie, and Maurice Ravel's glittering Jeux d'eau". It may do the trick, but it isn't the way I would have marketed a disc that is more spectacular than that lightweight recommendation suggests.

Chabrier's Bourrée fantasque and Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit are surely its more substantial attractions, particularly when played with such brilliance. The 26-year-old Canadian had set up high expectations.

Very wisely, she played nothing from the CD in her Wigmore programme, but opened with Ravel's five Miroirs, his most "impressionistic" set of pieces. Instead of playing one of the Wigmore's usual Steinways, Cole had brought in a Yamaha, on which "Noctuelles" sounded, at first, too loud and too brittle, hardly crepuscular at all. But she soon found her level, and "Une barque sur l'océan" was beautifully melting and evocative.

Cole has a dexterity and control to match almost any pianist you care to think of, and she took the outer sections of "Alborada del gracioso" at such a lick, my brain could hardly keep up – in this instance, speed was rather at the expense of character.

But Cole isn't just a keyboard athlete, for she focused the moods of three of Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus with absolute certainty. The Prophets, Shepherds and Magi of the 16th piece inspired a thrill of fear at their exotic strangeness, and "Première Communion de la Vierge" was perfect in repose, with its Hindu-inflected variation sharply contrasted.

Equally compelling were Bartok's Eight Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, their frequent violence perfectly controlled yet never tamed, their melancholy exquisitely pointed. But Liszt's B minor Sonata was, perhaps, the most interesting test of Naida Cole's qualities, for her razor-sharp elegance isn't exactly what you associate with this epic work.

It was certainly a fiery performance. The lead into the slow section should have been more considered, but there were noble passages, too, and finely graded soft playing, and the audience was transfixed. Quite rightly, Cole declined to add an encore.

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