REVIEWS: CLASSICAL MUSIC Cho-Liang Lin Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
An all-French programme of works dating from the first half of this century might seem a coolly appropriate choice of programming for these arctic times. And yet this music is rarely cool, even if the colouring harmonically is frequently silvery and translucent. Despite the Taiwan- born violinist Cho-Liang Lin being teamed with a known specialist in French piano literature, Paul Crossley, the suspicion remains that this partnership is one of convenience to a record company, in this case Sony Classical, rather than a real meeting of minds and emotions.

The lion's share of Tuesday night's recital at the Wigmore Hall was given over to repertoire recently released on a new "album" (sic) comprising sonatas by Poulenc, Ravel and Debussy. Poulenc's sonata began the programme; it is something of an ugly duckling. Written for Ginette Neveu and dedicated to the memory of Federico Garcia Lorca, after its first performance in 1943 Poulenc wrote that his colleagues (presumably composers rather than critics) had given it a bad press. And even Poulenc, 10 years later, described it as a failure, notwithstanding the fact that he had made revisions to it five years before. Of the three movements, the central intermezzo is the most focused, avoiding the tendency displayed in the outer movement towards stodginess, a result of cliched repetition. In this movement, Lin never let the music sag and displayed a sensitive feeling for its sensuousness, a real strength in that, if overplayed, all that's left is kitsch. But Poulenc's use of pizzicato in all three movements is really wayward, not standing a chance against lush, sustained chords or spiky passage work in the piano and rather remarkably failing to add significant additional colour.

Ravel's Sonata in G is, by contrast, an acknowledged masterpiece. Lin was surprisingly music-bound - one would have thought that having recorded this well-known work, he could have been freed from the music stand; in the "Blues" second movement, the smoke was decidedly clean, saucy slides and moochiness held tastefully in check. Crossley, too, seemed inappropriately restrained.

Debussy's sonata was the last work he wrote and, although he dismissed it as unsatisfactory, Poulenc, who was all too well aware of the inherent problems in the relationship between violin and piano, pronounced it "a masterpiece by sheer instrumental tact". It was in this work that the suspicion firmed that French music may not be Lin's bag. Throughout the concert, Lin's playing displayed introversion that was, at times, evidently appropriate, but in the Debussy and later in Ravel's exotic Tzigane, his carefulness, verging on the pedantic, was absolutely maddening. Oh, for some real passion! Lesser known works by Ravel - his charming "Berceuse sur le nom de Gabriel Faure" and early Violin Sonata in A minor - completed the programme. Crossley, playing on full stick, frequently covered Lin but then Lin was not giving much. Moments of nifty finger work could be heard from Crossley, particularly in Tzigane. But somehow this marriage just wasn't right.

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