PIANO RECITALS: Martin Roscoe Wigmore Hall, London Piotr Anderszewski Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
People can sing Szymanowski's heart-throbbing Etude in B flat minor without knowing another note of his music. It made a well-earned encore at the end of Martin Roscoe's Wigmore Hall recital last Thursday, after the rarefied atmosphere of the Polish composer's Masques. Stokowski arranged the Etude for orchestra, but the fabulous inventiveness and kaleidoscopic colours of Masques would offer a far more interesting challenge to someone with a flair for orchestral wizardry. The three pieces might be called the connoisseur's alternative to Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit or Miroirs. They are not merely hedonistic, but elevate eroticism into something sharply objective and sophisticated.

Instead of Ravel, which would have been too much of a good thing, Roscoe played the three Masques after Debussy's second set of Images, showing more confidence than we had a right to expect. He is such a good pianist, it seems churlish to add that he hasn't quite the range of touch, the sheer glamour, for the Szymanowski, which ought to dazzle. But he was a lot more in command of Masques than of the Variations on a Polish Folk Song which Szymanowski wrote some 12 years earlier. They're a superbly pianistic party piece, not far from the style of Scriabin's music of the same vintage, and in conventional formal terms, arguably a more fluent and lissome example of long-term planning than anything Scriabin wrote at that time.

The contrasts of the 10 variations are totally convincing and the finale, incorporating a fugue that soon dissolves into swirling gestures, is a magnificent peroration. Roscoe gave the impression of slight caution, of holding something back for fear of losing control, but this extravagant music ought to sound fearless. Still, after excellent performances of Chopin's First Ballade and Two Nocturnes, Op 27, we could only be grateful to him for giving us the rare chance to hear this splendid work.

On Sunday afternoon Piotr Anderszewski opened his Queen Elizabeth Hall recital with Mozart's Fantasia and Sonata in C minor. Anderszewski takes no familiar classic for granted, and his extremely slow tempo at the beginning of the Fantasia stretched a sense of connectedness almost further than it could go. But his searching approach opened a cosmic range of expression. Appropriately, the Sonata was more strictly played, but with a great sense of textural variety and depth, sometimes to the extent that light accompaniment figures were barely brushed in, suggested with the lightest touch, as if you knew they were there and didn't need the point underlined.

Airy grace and buoyancy, too, floated us through Bach's Third Partita, though Anderszewski was strong in the opening Fantasia and bracing in the Scherzo. All the movements were full of light and shade, and ornamented with a natural sense of style. He need hardly have pleaded a case for performing Bach on a Steinway - his music poses problems on any instrument - and if the audience didn't seem to know the Gigue had brought the suite to an end, that may have been because Anderszewski took it surprisingly gently, and reduced a sense of conclusion; but it may also have been simply because, like a lot of Bach's gigues, it ends on a unison, without any fuss.

The final item, Bartok's 14 Bagatelles, was a courageous choice, and richly rewarding. Composed in 1908, shortly after Bartok had begun researching East European folk music and had also got to know Debussy's music, they are a compendium of new sounds, utterly liberated in expression, but too brilliantly evocative and assured to be called "experimental". Anderszewski seemed to conjure some sounds out of nothing, etched others with devastating precision, and painted all these miniatures with an economy of tone and gesture that hit the mark every time. It was characteristic of him to add just one serene little piece as an encore - a Bagatelle by Beethoven.

Further recitals in Martin Roscoe's Szymanowski series: 23 May and 13 June, Wigmore Hall, London SE1. Booking: 0171-935 2141

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