Classical: The Jekyll and Hyde of the piano

Konstantin Lifschitz Wigmore Hall, London
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This Ukrainian-born pianist is extraordinary. His first two CDs - live, at the ages of 13 and 16 - proclaimed a talent as advanced and as striking as Yevgeny Kissin's. Three and four years later, in a private recital in London and at the Wigmore Hall, he didn't seem the same player at all, and it was hard to tell where, artistically, he was going.

Lifschitz is now studying in Italy, and was back at the Wigmore on Wednesday, when he proved as unpredictable and variable as before. The first half, consisting of Beethoven's six Bagatelles, Op 126, and A major Sonata, Op 101, suggested a dark Odyssey of the spirit. He seemed to avoid anything conventionally expressive, feeling his way through the slower Bagatelles, with scarcely any pedal, as if trying to identify an object in the dark. His sound was sometimes huge, and his left hand sometimes heavy, but his mood was consistently detached, without any pretence at passion.

In the first movement of the Sonata, there was the same magnified articulation, like speaking a language to foreigners. The march of the second movement was scrupulously clear, recalling the punctilious perfection of the late Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. The slow movement and finale were equally sober and objective. The word "dull" would be unfair, as Lifschitz was so committed and so honest.

And yet, after the interval, a different musician seemed to be playing. Gone was the heavy left hand and in came more use of the pedal, as well as a range of feeling from passion to delicacy. The first of Schubert's four Impromptus, D899, was purposeful, with a sweeping sense of shape, minus the fussy rhythmic bulges that many pianists apply like digs in the ribs. Most of the expression in the melodious G flat major Impromptu was achieved through subtle variations of volume and balance, with a top line that was simple and sincere. The last was mellifluous and melting, without any prettification, its middle second section kept on the move, expressive but not squeezed for effect.

Nor, in the whirlwind of hell depicted in Liszt's Dante Sonata, did Lifschitz find any call for melodramatic caricature. This was serious business, done swift and straight. It did sound a bit congested at times, but no doubt hell is, and in the slow second theme, Lifschitz placed notes with an exact sense of weight and timing.

His range of sympathy extends far and wide, too, as he showed in his first encore, a lilting sonata by Scarlatti, which was followed by a deliciously evanescent performance of the Scherzo from Chopin's B minor Sonata.

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