This is a great time for piano lovers, a terrible one for young pianists. The past four years have flung up the most phenomenal range of new talent, more than listeners can take in. Daniil Trifonov, the 2011 Tchaikovsky winner, set a new benchmark. Since then, the 2015 Chopin competition has yielded Seong-jin Cho and Charles-Richard Hamelin, the Van Cliburn has brought forth the prodigious Beatrice Rana, the BBC Young Musician winner Benjamin Grosvenor has quickly made a name for himself and there are more coming through all the time.
And then there’s Lucas Debargue. Placed fourth in the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition at the age of 24, the former supermarket assistant impressed as much for his courage and naivety as for his technical ability. He had never played with an orchestra before he reached Moscow. He won more hearts in the competition than judges’ marks and has been back several times to play for the world’s most discerning piano audience. Whether these skills would captivate the clinical ears of record buyers was a matter that divided professional opinion. Here, at last, you can see why.
His opening Scarlatti track is maimed by an interpretative effect that is either hesitancy, anxiety or preciousness. It does not inspire immediate confidence. The Chopin 4th ballade is beautifully played, albeit without profound character. It is only when you reach the midpoint of the album that the real Lucas is released. Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz is seductive, overwhelming, not far short of sensational. Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit glistens like moon on the English Channel. A Grieg melody is done with just the right emotional detachment, Schubert’s third Moment musical is perfectly danceable and the closing piece is a variation by Lucas himself on the Scarlatti sonata that opened this recital. This inimitable pianist is here to stay.