The Venezuelan piano virtuoso surprises audiences in the last stop of his Australian tour.

Melbourne Recital Centre, June 25

Sergio Tiempo’s concerts often have the effect of polarizing critics. While many seem to love the Venezuelan-born virtuoso’s individual dynamism, others have deemed his liberal interpretations of well-known works as not so much swayed by groundbreaking artistry as a mere disregard for tradition.

Unsure of what to expect from Tiempo’s solo recital of Chopin, Ravel and Liszt last Tuesday at the Melbourne Recital Centre, I entered the concert hall with an air of trepidation. Taking my seat, the former child prodigy and protégé of Martha Argerich bounded on to stage and opened the concert with Chopin’s languid and sinuous Waltz in A-flat.

From only the first few bars it became apparent that Tiempo’s reputation as an artist not afraid of taking risks was more than justified. Playing with a brash and exaggerated rubato, which, though making for occasional moments of rapturous excitement often burdened the phrasing with a rather awkward sense of lopsidedness. A misplaced penchant for heavy-handed attacks also gave some of the piece’s animato passages a jarring, uncomfortable robustness. In recompense, however, Chopin’s lyrical moments were delivered with a kaleidoscopic array of delicate, almost mystical timbral colours. His rendition of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 was more pleasing, marrying perfectly the work’s structural austerity with singing melody.

In the second half, a self-possessed performance of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit absolved Tiempo from the some of the first half’s peccadillos. The work’s first movement, Ondines, was played with great lushness of tone before giving way to an admirable softness of touch in the bell-like B-flat repetition of the second movement. And despite choosing a breakneck tempo for the concluding movement, Scarbo, Tiempo nailed the histrionic and notoriously tricky passages with panache.