Warren Mailley-Smith, St John's, Smith Square, London

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The Independent Culture

Warren Mailley-Smith's piano programme was half repertoire classics, half English music. St John's isn't an easy hall for a pianist - the instrument sounds distant and the acoustic exaggerates variations of volume. Mailley-Smith's bold and forthright delivery of Haydn's C major Sonata made for a strong start. After it, rather surprisingly, he thanked us all for coming and announced his next item, an unusual, slightly super-fluous, courtesy that he repeated throughout the evening.

John Ireland's piano pieces used to be familiar items to keen amateurs but are now rather rare in recitals. In Chelsea Reach - a sort of suave barcarolle - Mailley-Smith somewhat forced his tone, and could have let the music float more gently, while the more restless waterscape, Amberley Wild Brooks, had a lot of light and shade but wasn't quite ravishing enough.

A quality that the late Master of the Queen's Music, Malcolm Williamson, would hardly have expected in his rather sour little Sonata No 1. The first two movements stressed the importance of right-hand melody without making it at all appealing, while the percussive finale focused on rhythmic asymmetry to stronger effect.

Following it with Chopin's Fourth Ballade, Mailley-Smith seemed to lose a degree of concentration. While there was nothing wrong with his conception of how this labyrinthine work should go, some small memory slips in the long, exploratory opening section undermined his confidence, and he never quite worked up sufficient impetus; the climax of the second theme was less than overwhelming.

After the interval, Mailley-Smith had recovered his form in Delius's Three Preludes - beautifully transparent pieces that are also characteristic of the composer's sensitive ear for harmony. They were eloquently phrased, with firm rhythmic support, and he clearly enjoyed playing them.

If only he hadn't suffered lapses of memory again in Liszt's three Concert Studies, they might have been equally successful. You can afford to drop a few stitches in Liszt as long as nobody notices, but holes and loose threads were all too apparent in "La leggierezza" and "Un sospiro", while "Il lamento", the first piece in the set, simply lacked sufficient confidence for its operatic panache to come across.

Nothing daunted, Mailley-Smith ended with a courageous performance, from memory, of York Bowen's Sonata in B flat minor. Bowen, a pianist as well as a composer, died some 40 years ago, and this was his Opus 160, but the music is unabashed in its fulsome romanticism. Though there are hints of the blues in the harmony of the slow movement, the work as a whole suggests an English Rachmaninov, or more precisely, an English Medtner.

Warren Mailley-Smith could perform a useful service by concentrating even more on such neglected repertoire.