Vikingur Olafsson, now signed to Deutsche Grammophon, with a warmly reviewed Philip Glass double album under his belt, is clearly a gifted pianist. He plays better with his jacket on, too. Seductively ensconced with a full-size Steinway in the corner of the cloisters at the Abbey of Silvacane his programme daringly attempted to straddle two disparate musical universes. How successfully, depends on your musical perceptions.
The Bach Partita was brilliantly played, free of mannerisms, nicely judged. I suspect the low ceiling in the cloisters gives a hard edge to anything above forte. Every artist I have heard at this venue has struggled with the same problem, even when wisely employing a Bechstein to try and avoid it. Arguably, the final gigue could have been gentler, but it was a fittingly proportioned end to an account of this masterpiece that encompassed all of its many subtleties without in any way compromising its daring scope and scale.
There’s no doubt, either, that Vikingur Olafsson has a special sensitivity for Glass’s peculiar sound world, its constantly changing ostinati, and shifts of harmony and leading notes. For this listener, however, reservations about the range and depth of the composer’s vision surfaced, although never about the quality of the pianism. The audience seemed for the most part rapt and involved, as well they might be.
Two encores, modestly and charmingly introduced by the soloist, Rameau’s Rappel des Oiseaux and three pieces by Bartok, equally well played, completed a recital by a highly talented young artist who, on this showing, has seemingly endless potential for growth and already has musical instincts of considerable depth.