Niklas Sivelov/George-Emmanuellazaradis | Wallace Collection, London

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The Independent Culture

When the Swedish pianist Niklas Sivelov flung off his jacket before playing, it seemed like a breath of fresh air. But the way he launched Haydn's E minor Sonata was more like a gale - gusty and loud, augmented by humming as he played. He didn't take much heed of "piano" markings, nor of the finer points of expression. Perhaps he's a romantic pianist out of his element, I thought, as he swaggered through the central Adagio, and blustered unsteadily through the finale.

When the Swedish pianist Niklas Sivelov flung off his jacket before playing, it seemed like a breath of fresh air. But the way he launched Haydn's E minor Sonata was more like a gale - gusty and loud, augmented by humming as he played. He didn't take much heed of "piano" markings, nor of the finer points of expression. Perhaps he's a romantic pianist out of his element, I thought, as he swaggered through the central Adagio, and blustered unsteadily through the finale.

His roughness was only slightly less startling in Beethoven's 32 Variations in C minor, and it was clear that he wasn't always in control - of the soft dynamic in the seventh variation, of the cross-rhythms in the sixteenth. Beethoven, by all accounts, might have played like this when he was deaf.

In full-blown, late romantic music, Sivelov was equally insensitive, and Scriabin's Sonata Fantasie seemed a jumble of notes without any attempt to layer its complex textures, without proper balancing of its harmonies. It must have seemed almost incomprehensible to someone hearing it for the first time.

The last of Stenhammar's Three Fantasies is marked "Molto espressivo e con intimissimo sentimento", but you wouldn't have known that from hearing Sivelov playing it, and Ginastera's "Danzas Argentinas" only survived because of their robust and colourful character. This wasn't a recital up to the standard expected at the Wallace Collection.

Fortunately, the honour of the series was fully restored a week later. I don't know whether Steinways delivered the same instrument each Sunday, but in the last recital it sounded completely different. The young Greek pianist George-Emmanuel Lazaridis made an alluring, burnished sound which seemed perfectly adjusted to the Great Picture Gallery, even though the piano was on the bright side - too bright, to my ears, in some of Schumann's "Fantasiestucke", Op.12. In "Traumes Wirren", for instance, Lazaridis had difficulty keeping it soft, even though he caught just the right feeling of dizziness. Why didn't he use the "una corda" pedal? He also gave the perfect rhythmic swagger to "Grillen", while the final piece was courageously fast and passionate.

Lazaridis also kept Mozart's A minor Rondo travelling a bit more than most players. It was distinctively coloured, too, just as much in the left hand as in the right, and its passing moods were dramatised almost as in an operatic "scena", with a beautifully sculpted line.

There were also colour and drama, and very precise articulation, in Beethoven's D minor Sonata from the Opus 31 set * - scene-painting to rival the stormy Salvator Rosa painting behind the piano, as if the music had earned its nickname, The Tempest, for meteorological associations. Actually, when asked what the Sonata meant, Beethoven replied "Read Shakespeare's The Tempest", which no doubt did the job of shutting his questioner up.

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