Alexander Boyd, Wigmore Hall, London

By Adrian Jack
Wednesday 30 October 2002 01:00

While Louis Lortie must have drawn a lot of the potential audience to the Queen Elizabeth Hall the same evening, the young Australian pianist Alexander Boyd still managed to pack in a crowd at the Wigmore Hall. Perhaps they were fellow students – they were certainly enthusiastic – for Boyd has done much of his training in London. Odd word, "training", though the life of a performer must be a test of many qualities besides the artistic. Boyd certainly seemed well trained, but his artistic potential remained in doubt.

He started with Mozart's F major Sonata, K533, and let his fingers do the talking, with a minimum of personal intervention – a simple, objective approach. Perhaps it was too simple, though he allowed the slow middle movement to breathe in a relaxed and natural way.

More was needed, though, in the eight short pieces of Schumann's Fantasiestücke, Op 12. He merely traced the surface of this deeply poetic music, oblivious to its atmosphere of enchantment, impervious to its intimately personal appeal. In fact, Boyd didn't really seem to enjoy playing it, which may have been down to nervousness – there were fluffs in "Aufschwung" and "Traumes Wirren" that were certainly due to nerves – though I suspect emotional inhibition was the main problem. For heaven's sake, he should have warmed up by the time he reached "Ende vom Lied" and filled it out with some generosity of feeling, but it was prim and proper.

And that was just how the opening left-hand ostinato of Debussy's "La puerta del Vino" sounded: the tempo needed to be just a bit slower. Not much of Debussy's "passionée douceur" here. A selection of five more Preludes from the second set followed – an odd choice, since imagination did not seem Boyd's strong point, and pieces such as "Les Fées sont d'exquises danseuses" and "La Terrasse des audiences du clair de lune" make no sense without it. "Les Tierces alternées" was all right, because it is an abstract piece, like a technical study. But although the final "Feux d'artifice" also exploits bravura, it is vividly pictorial. These fireworks hardly lit up.

Which left Liszt's first Mephisto Waltz, potentially a wild thing to end a recital when played with panache, but not worth playing merely correctly. A dull evening.

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