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The Icelandic pianist unveils a new work alongside his mesmerising mastery of Philip Glass

Review: VÍKINGUR ÓLAFSSON PREMIERES EDMUND FINNIS, Southbank Centre Making his Proms debut just last year, Víkingur Ólafsson is no stranger to London's classical music scene. Now he brings his searing musical brilliance to the Southbank Centre to premiere Edmund Finnis' Mirror Images alongside familiar selections from his repertoire in a lucid whirlwind of minimalist mastery.

Beginning with a selection of works from Glass that feature on Ólafsson's 2017 album, his interpretation of Glass is particularly reflective, with a soft undulating focus reverberating delicately. Echoes of Glass' interest in Eastern Philosophy linger in statis in the background.

He starts with a particularly mournful rendition of Opening letting the piece breathe and ripple over eight minutes in a gentle but mesmerising trance. He is also not afraid to challenge himself and the audience, launching into a concrete tempo for Etude No.9. He channels the force of a swirling thunder cloud, only to dissipate into the post-rainstorm serenity of Etude No.2. A different perspective on something familiar to illuminate the object in a new light, something he makes look effortless.

British composer Edmund Finnis' Mirror Images, written for Ólafsson, is a fitting choice to juxtapose with Glass. Consisting of a sequence of nine punchy movements, they share a family resemblance but with slight changes in their DNA; both manifest moments of heavy breathing and tight space transcribed within the musical patterns.

Yet Finnis also breaks with Glass in curious ways: a rowdy younger sibling rebelling against the old guard perhaps. He sheds Glass's icy focus on repetition to forge something less contemplative but more lacerating in its vision. He also grants Ólafsson the space to be more personal, less separate. He tells us before that Mirror Images is a piece he knows he will be playing for years to come.

Bookending the concert is a return to Glass with Etude No.20. A curveball of a piece in the context of the other Etudes, its architecture is more flamboyant, something that Ólafsson highlights. It is a mysterious work that feels unsure of itself, a snake with its tail in its mouth. According to Ólafsson, not even Glass himself knew where it came from.

Launching the beginning of Ólafsson's residency at the Southbank Centre, the concert feels like a nod to the Icelandic pianist's past, the pause before the first step on a journey towards the new season. It promises to be his biggest year yet, and if this was just a snippet of what is to come, this will also be his strongest.

Photo Credit: Mark Allan

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