Even just by reading his programme-notes you can tell that Ashley Fripp is a pianist of formidable intelligence. Add to that a fearless, loose-limbed technique and a prodigious memory (no music on the stand all evening), and you have a young talent which needs to be taken very seriously indeed.
This Town Hall recital was Fripp's reward for winning the 2012 Brant International Piano Competition, and he brought a fascinating, if not totally engaging programme, beginning with a crisp, bubbling account of Haydn's quirky Sonata no. 60 (I don't know where the extra ones have come from -- my Peters edition ends at no.52).
He made the Town Hall's modern Steinway sound like a responsive fortepiano, and his deft voice-leading made me long to hear him in Bach.
Just as his playing of Liszt's longwinded "Italie" volume of the Annees de Pelerinage made me wish we were hearing that composer's finest work for piano, the mighty Sonata, and arguably the world's greatest. Fripp brought persuasive articulation, well-judged pedalling and a huge dynamic range to this prolix music, and the soundworld of the Sonata frequently came tantalisingly near.
And Fripp's greatest triumph came with a brilliant performance of Thomas Ades' concert paraphrase on his first opera, Powder her Face. The tango-infused loucheness of the sleazy work is warmly evoked here in music of astonishing approachability ( we hear flavours of Debussy, Albeniz, Liszt too, and many other pianistic greats), but in piano writing of the utmost fiendishness.
Gone are the mind-blowing six staves of Ades' earlier Traced Overhead, but we still get the ridiculous affectation of a 2 over 6 time-signature, and a complexity of texture which would daunt all but pianists of Fripp's stature.
This was an amazing reading, gripping, sensuous and full of colour and flavour. Listen out for Fripp in the future; I certainly will.