To be considered for inclusion in the Keyboard Charitable Trust’s early-evening series of piano recitals at Steinway Hall one has to have attained an exceptionally high standard, but few appearances at these recitals in recent years would have consistently matched the extraordinary exhibition of flawless keyboard technique and comprehensive musicianship displayed by the 25-year-old Uzbekistani pianist Michail Lifits.
He came with an impressive clutch of awards and prizes in international competitions, having studied first in Uzbekistan and then extensively in Italy and in Germany, where he now lives, but all of this is by way of preamble to the arrival in London of a master-pianist who, in each of the four items that made up his programme, proved himself to be a complete musician in virtually every sense of the phrase.
Mozart’s Duport Variations was given with a superb control of characterisation and recreative musicianship, qualities that Lifits also brought to a profound reading of Schubert’s E flat minor Klavierstück, revealing it to be among the composer’s greatest shorter works for piano.
The centrepiece of this programme was Schumann’s C major Fantasy. Lifits’s performance was exceptional in every regard, not least in his extraordinary gradations of dynamics – always put to the most significant structural and expressive purposes, and never for mere effect. Here was a totally convincing demonstration of just how great and original this masterpiece is.
Schumann dedicated the work to Liszt, whose own Twelfth Hungarian Rhapsody held no fears for Lifits, who, in turn, held the large and distinguished audience spellbound by his magisterial pianism. Here is a potentially great artist, who ought to enjoy an international reputation as the years pass. If he doesn’t, I’ll buy a hat and eat it.