Review: CLASSICAL MUSIC Anna Kravtchenko Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
Anna Kravtchenko is 21 this year and won the Busoni Competition in Bolzano, incredible as it may seem, in 1992. She's still studying in Italy. She began her Wigmore Hall recital on Saturday night with Schumann's Kreisleriana, and in the crazy, passionate, opening number at once asserted a big, warm personality, filling out the rising phrases like billowing sails rather than yielding unconditionally to the music's impetuosity.

It was indicative, for in the introspective sections of the second piece Kravtchenko had a way of dwelling at certain points, which became a mannerism and kept recurring in the rest of the cycle. Still, it was clear she felt strongly, and her involvement got a bit intrusive when it took the form of heavy breathing and very distracting chewing movements with her mouth. She's certainly young enough to do something about that.

Kravtchenko has plenty of technique, and something more special - a panache and generosity of feeling you associate with musicians from her part of the world (she comes from the Ukraine) if not always with someone so young. If you had heard her playing Liszt's Rapsodie espagnole the way she did on Saturday, without knowing who it was, you would have guessed it was someone who had a lot of experience of life and every confidence in her emotions. At the climax she seemed to grab us and hug us to death. It was irresistible.

After the interval she chose four of Scriabin's best-known Preludes, playing the most famous of all, in C sharp minor, Op 2 No 1, with a natural sense of freedom, and none of the narcissistic preciousness that tempts some pianists. She rather lost a sense of focus in the fluttering E major Prelude, Op 8 No 5, which makes two hands sound like four, but then found it again in the melancholy B flat minor Prelude from the same set, ending in grand, heroic style with the Prelude in D sharp minor.

Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata wasn't, admittedly, a very original choice to end with. But after all, this was Saturday night, and Kravtchenko dug well below the music's surface - so far, in fact, it wasn't always easy to follow her, or to recognise what she found. The outer movements were not steely and ruthless, but cosmic and sometimes mysterious, while in the middle movement she ignored any charm the main theme might have in favour of a more searching quality, and built up the bell-like music to terrifying dimensions, leaving a haunting oscillation afterwards that had a wonderful sense of distance. This was a very human Prokofiev, and epic in the best Russian tradition.

Kravtchenko gave two Russian encores as well - Rachmaninov's Polka and Tchaikovsky's "October" from The Seasons - both played just as if she enjoyed them.