At this Mozart Saal recital the latest addition to the bumf which routinely overfills concert programmes was a flyer for an autumn sale at Austria’s main Steinway dealership, drawing one’s attention a fraction more than usual to the unremarkable fact that like the overwhelming majority of his colleagues, Ingolf Wunder is a Steinway artist. If the best endorsement for any instrument is the freedom it allows, be it in terms of colour, depth or clarity, then Steinway need not fear the dulcet, cushioned tone Wunder coaxed as if from a Blüthner, most beguilingly in the second movement of the Mozart K333 sonata.

Ingolf Wunder © Patrick Walter / DG
Ingolf Wunder
© Patrick Walter / DG

Smoothness and beauty of tone were less marked but still there for the flowing cantabile phrases of the first movement, and the tendency to launch bombastically into the second subject one encounters in other performances of this sonata was here admirably resisted. Voice leading, typically absent in the sequential patterning and other flourishes which round off this subject area, made a welcome appearance with some quartet-like playing displacing the usual overstated show of contrast. That same independence of movement was not there at the beginning, with the left hand reduced to an accompanimental figure at odds with its contours on the page, and an overly dominant right hand returned for large portions of the two Liszt pieces. All the conceivable mannerisms so scrupulously avoided in the first two movements of the Mozart came to dog the final movement, with the rondo theme fastidiously exact until an ostentatious entry for the Alberti bass and erratic escalation of tempo. The heightened rhetoric didn’t end with the pulling around of pulse and grinding to a near halt when the initial theme recurred; taken as preparation for the interpolated cadenza, all this seemed quite counterproductive and the culminating episode itself anticlimactic and out of place.

Liszt’s eleventh Transcendental Étude, “Harmonies du Soir”, was a fine performance by any standard despite the excessively pointed right hand. Shifting harmonies remained impressively clear while taking on sonorous depth and shimmer at the top, and the flowing line so patchy in the Mozart was here unbroken. “Mazeppa”, a further étude from the same set and unwisely attempted unless on optimal pianistic form, was forgivably replaced by the strangeness of Liszt’s “Csárdás macabre”, here lacking in continuity, as amusingly as the exotic bare fifths subsided into the incongruous lilt of Viennese salon music.

Chopin’s third piano sonata confirmed that Wunder is most at home in the virtuosic Romantic repertoire, though of course Chopin’s sonatas are much more than that. Sounding a little too fresh off the competition circuit, this account came excised of the insights and individuality young pianists still fear risking in front of juries, though as with any prizewinning performance it was faultless, give or take the first movement’s muddy sequential build-up into the big developmental restatement of the second subject, and not lacking in flair. In the guise of a reliable Ashkenazy epigone Wunder delivered the goods, but this is the kind of thing which drives us so easily bored by the Welte-Mignon school of Chopin interpretation to Zimerman and the young Pogorelich, among others.

Any Chopin sonata is enough for a second half and the Grande Polonaise brillante, a programmed encore in all but name, felt duly redundant. As in the third movement of the Mozart, Wunder’s playing appeared to be missing an orchestral foil, less for rhetorical affectation, however, than persistent thinness of sound.