How exceptional does a pianist have to be to make an impression in the crowded world of concert-giving and recording? The German pianist Bernd Glemser is under contract to the well-distributed bargain label Naxos, and made his London recital debut on Sunday morning, opening the second series at the Wallace Collection. It's easy to see why he has secured a foothold as a recording artist, for he's reliable and very capable. Nothing was missing from his performances of virtuoso music by Liszt, Scriabin and Rachmaninov except that charge of electricity which shocks you into paying attention, and makes you perceive something as new. By choosing heavy, often barnstorming works like Liszt's Funerailles, Scriabin's Third Sonata, and Rachmaninov's Second Sonata, Glemser probably meant to leave no doubt of his strong technique and command of large-scale musical narrative. There he succeeded. But in the excellent and quite close acoustic of the Wallace Collection's Long Gallery, he might have chosen less flamboyant, more inward pieces. Quite a few pianists play Rachmaninov's Second Sonata nowadays, particularly in its cut-down revised version, and not everyone manages the coherent sense of line that Glemser achieved; yet although he was powerful, he was never breathtaking, nor did he woo or seduce us with the lyrical and languorous passages, in which his touch lacked sensuous appeal.
The American Jon Nakamatsu, Gold Medallist at the prestigious Van Cliburn Competition in Texas last year, opened his QEH recital on Tuesday with Harold Bauer's arrangement of Cesar Franck's celebrated organ triptych, Prelude, Fugue & Variation. The Prelude didn't quite flow, or sing, and Nakamatsu's sound seemed a bit undernourished. Yet he stood Brahms' first Sonata firmly on its feet, with clean, strong articulation and crisp rhythms, not pushing the finale for volume. After the interval, he got even better, and responded to almost every facet of Schumann's Carnaval without showing the slightest technical insecurity - not a common achievement. His grasp of Chopin's problematic Andante spianato & Grand polonaise was firm enough to make its elaborations, which often sound unwieldy, seem naturally effervescent.
There wasn't much really quiet playing during the evening - Nakamatsu ignored several of Schumann's pianissimo and even piano markings - and his first encore, Chopin's Fantaisie-impromptu, was moderate to loud all the way through. Still, in the big A flat Polonaise, Op 53, which followed, he did introduce the cavalry's approach with a due sense of distance, and though they like things big in Texas, I suspect Nakamatsu is not a man of extremes. He said goodnight with a very unsentimental rendering of one of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words.