First Night: Ghosts of pianists past shown a thing or two

Ashley Wass Wigmore Hall London
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The Independent Online
THE GHOSTS of three great pianists hovered over the well considered programme for the Wigmore debut of the young English pianist, Ashley Wass, last night - Rachmaninof and Busoni, with their arrangements of movements from Bach violin partitas; and Horowitz, with Samuel Barber's mighty sonata of 1949, which he first made known widely.

But instead of emulating Horowitz's special and distinctive brand of brilliance, Wass, the winner of the 1997 London Piano Competition, brought his own integrity to this monumental, at times frightening, work.

The slow movement, in Wass' hands, seemed an extraordinary achievement - genuinely deep and grand without the least suggestion of posturing.

Wass' own character as a pianist - and I have heard him many times - is one of natural gravity and strength through understatement.

This served Beethoven's 32 variations in C minor very well indeed and saved them from seeming like a glorified set of exercises (Beethoven. it is said, actually affected to disown them).

But Wass can really build large architectural forms as well, and his performance of the Bach/Busoni chaconne was profoundly moving - all the more so for its discipline and noble sobriety.

The spirit of Bach, filtered through a late Romantic twilight, pervades Cesar Franck's Prelude, Choral and Fugue, which concluded the recital.

Here Wass' unforced singing line and sense of orchestral depth, his instinct for distinguishing between contrapuntal structure and colouristic texture, combined gloriously to reaffirm this work - so often written about in condescending terms - as one of the sublime achievements of 19th-century keyboard music.