Damian Thompson

I think I’ve found the new Alfred Brendel

Can you tell how intelligent a musician is by listening to him play? Last year I discovered a recording of Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, a sprawling and spidery work that can fall apart even under the nimblest fingers. Not this time. Francesco Piemontesi, a young Swiss–Italian pianist, totally nails it. Believe

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The song that fought apartheid

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Mannenberg, the seminal album by the Cape Townian jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand). Recorded against a backdrop of forced removals as the apartheid government evicted Coloured families from District Six, the title track was inspired by and named after the township


Did Turgenev foresee Russia’s Stalinist future?

Fans of Chekhov have to endure both feast and famine. Feast because his works are revived everywhere. Famine because he concentrated all his riches in just four great plays that grow stale with repetition. For fresh nourishment we turn to Brian Friel, whose stage adaptations of the short stories go some way to appease our



The girl who had sex with dolphins

BBC4’s The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins (Tuesday) began with the overstated-sounding claim that it would be tackling ‘perhaps the most remarkable period in the history of animal science’. In fact, though, the longer the programme went on, the more convincing this claim felt — even if the word ‘period’ should possibly have been replaced


The painter who channelled the forces of gravity

Tragically, Ian Welsh (1944–2014) did not live to see this exhibition of his latest work. Diagnosed with terminal cancer on the eve of his 70th birthday, he struggled to finish the two large paintings in his last series of works, entitled ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’. He found it increasingly difficult to stand to paint, but he worked,


A funny weepie that paints itself into a contrived corner

The Fault in Our Stars, which is based on the bestselling young-adult novel by John Green, is about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love and it’s a sort of Love Story for younger people, God help them, although unlike Love Story it’s not set to mislead an entire generation. (In my experience, love