The trill of perfection

LONDON PIANO RECITALS Lars Vogt, Aldo Mancinelli Wigmore Hall; Mitsuko Uchida Barbican Centre

Adrian Jack
Saturday 07 December 2013 02:59

Lars Vogt is young enough to advertise his birth date, 1970. He's also still studying - with Professor Kammerling in Hannover. Pianists twice his age have lessons too, though they don't usually make it known. The fact should reassure, for it shows the artist is still developing. At the same time, Vogt is supremely assured, and at the Wigmore Hall, on the Wednesday of last week, he was on top form - fresh and confident, as if inspired by the first signs of spring. Aptly, he gave vigorous overviews of Beethoven's and Brahms's first sonatas, clear and shining, bursting with a sense of well-being. But already, in Brahms's byways through the minor mode, there's a wistful quality, a sense of distant, unattainable beauty that Vogt captured to perfection.

In Beethoven's last set of piano pieces, the Op 126 Bagatelles, Vogt could indulge intimate speculation on a more philosophical level, though in the last piece the tempo dragged. In Brahms's farewell to his own instrument, the four Piano Pieces, Op 119, a rather light touch and retiring top line made the second Intermezzo very private indeed. The C major Intermezzo was perfect, not too staccato nor too fussed, and in the final Rhapsody, Vogt contrasted buoyant strength with limpid delicacy. A lovely evening, capped with Brahms's Intermezzo, Op 117 No 1, as a lullaby to take home, if you fancied Vogt's way of cherishing its sadness.

At the Wigmore Hall on Monday, the 68-year-old American pianist Aldo Mancinelli showed a business-like platform manner and a bold, no-nonsense style of playing. In two Scarlatti sonatas and Schumann's early Abegg Variations his fingers were strong and precise, but didn't draw very varied colours. His approach to Chopin's Second Sonata was broad and plain - secure, if a bit heavy-handed. The second subject in the first movement had little lyrical feeling and the finale, unpedalled until the last chord, was prosaic.

Odd, then, that he chose three of Debussy's Images after the interval. At least they were nicely shaped, if not tonally very subtle. The only novel piece was Charles Griffes's richly hedonistic Barcarolle of 1912, which was followed by Liszt's magniloquent second Ballade. Mancinelli's appetite for grandeur was still unsatisfied, for he gave a powerful account of Chopin's "Revolutionary" Study as his second encore.

A far cry from Mitsuko Uchida, who gave the "Celebrity" Recital at the Barbican on Wednesday. She is a pianist of exquisite finesse, and also passion. The combination of these two qualities made for a rather gusty, temperamental performance of Berg's Sonata, in which a sense of line sometimes got submerged. But such hectic contrasts were absolutely right for Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze, where Uchida's ability to float melting lyricism hard on the heels of explosive outbursts met the demands of Schumann's mercurial imagination. And if Uchida's subtle shadings and way of freezing pulse sometimes seemed unduly precious, she none the less sculpted the first movement of Beethoven's Op 111 Sonata with a daring that her immaculate articulation fully justified, and in the Variations of the second movement she guided us, as it were, through a spiritual ordeal, a chastening by fire, to a state of perfect serenity and a progression of the most perfect trills imaginable

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