Sergio Tiempo, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London – review

At the time of having his first child, Sergio Tiempo decided to devise a recital programme that would encapsulate each member of his family. A couple of years on, he is touring with that programme of highly contrasted pieces, except that it has now been extended with a short, lullaby-like waltz by Brahms to represent the latest arrival, a new baby born last month.

Unlike most pianists, the engaging Tiempo likes to talk to his audience. Sometimes he explained why a certain item had been selected, as with six of Chopin’s Études, intended to portray the audience and individually chosen by them in advance. With fingers crossed, he thanked everybody for making his life easy, even though they were some of the most showy out of the two main sets.

The work that Tiempo had selected to characterise himself was “Reflets dans l’eau” from Debussy’s Images. Mostly played in a dreamy haze, this lived up to his own description of himself as “timid and reflective”, though almost nothing else in the recital did. Like other protégés of the inspirational pianist Martha Argerich, Tiempo is wildly volatile and his playing veers from hushed and poetic to fast and loud and clangorous, with not a lot in between.

A couple of pieces by Brahms did not make this obvious at first, though even there Tiempo’s playing was very free, almost improvisatory. The extreme contrasts of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata would seem to invite his impulsive temperament, but few (not even Lang Lang) have made the outbursts that charge the music from the outset so explosive. It was hard to see even a vestige of the classical sonata left in this performance. A selection of excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet went even further and the piano took quite a hammering.

The second half worked rather better. The Chopin Études, though pushed as far as Tiempo could go in terms of virtuosity, delivered cascades of notes with just enough self-discipline to keep control. A couple of pieces from Tiempo’s native Argentina – Piazzolla’s tango-flavoured Fuga y misterio and Ginastera’s exuberant Malambo – came across with infectious ebullience. Best of all were the highlights from Villa-Lobos’s Prolo do bebê (“The Baby’s Family”) – playful, open-hearted, a total delight.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.