Portland Ovations had planned to present a recital by Behzod Abduraimov, a young pianist from Uzbekistan who has been winning plenty of attention in recent years, on Sunday afternoon at Merrill Auditorium. But just before last week’s blizzard, illness forced Abduraimov to bow out.

Between that last-minute cancellation and the storm, it would have been understandable if Ovations had bowed to the force majeure and either postponed or dropped the event. Instead, the enterprising presenter quickly invited Lukáš Vondráček – another pianist at the start of his career, but with some important successes behind him already – to fill in.

Vondráček, who was born in the Czech Republic and has lived in Boston since he completed his studies at the New England Conservatory, won first prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 2016. Reports from the competition that year suggested that he was a clear favorite nearly from the start, and indeed, in addition to his prize, he won the top prize in one of the contest’s two audience polls.

His performance Sunday suggested some reasons for that appeal. The main one is that, although his command is such that he can play at unusually brisk tempos, usually without sacrificing control or detail, the occasional imprecision or fleeting balance miscalculation suggested that he prized excitement over fastidiousness. That’s a choice that concert audiences appreciate, because a performance that is note-perfect but risk-averse just doesn’t get the heart pumping.

He is also an animated, unusually demonstrative player. There was a moment during his opening work, Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in F minor (Op. 5), when he raised his left hand above the keyboard, nearly to face level, and executed a strange, finger-wiggling conducting gesture. And in the finale of Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat major (D. 960), he looked as if he were intent on not just playing, but thwacking the sustained G (in octaves) that begins many of the movement’s episodes.

Physicality of that kind can be divisive: Some listeners will find it endearing, or at least interesting, while others will consider it a distracting affectation. Consider how much talk Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s red socks used to engender, or how much Lang Lang’s flamboyance still does. The history of modern pianism is packed with other examples, from Vladimir Horowitz’s amusing eccentricities to the discovery that Dame Myra Hess’ heavenward glances during especially moving passages were carefully choreographed and written into her scores.

Vondráček’s moves seemed natural enough, in the sense that they reflect an interpretive style in which passion is an absolute value. That much was clear from the opening moments of the Brahms, in which the work’s tensions and anxieties were given free rein, and played to their explosive extremes. Indeed, some of his phrasing was so edgy and starkly emotional that they left you wondering why Brahms’ detractors, during his lifetime, thought of him as a conservative.

Not that he shortchanged the music’s inherent lyricism. The gentler, more ruminative second and fourth movements had a graceful, floating quality and never seemed self-consciously restrained. That was the case, too, in Vítězslav Novák’s “Memories” (Op. 6), a three-movement suite in which attractively delicate “Triste” and “Amoroso” movements flank a restless, emotionally raw centerpiece marked “Inquieto.”

The Schubert is a work that some pianists play with an easygoing, gentle poetry, and others present as an emotional roller coaster, with dance-like passages and irresistibly shapely melodies offsetting long stretches of troubled, intense writing. By the time Vondráček reached this final work on his program, there was little doubt that he takes the more highly charged approach.

But there were still surprises, among them the suppleness with which he managed Schubert’s transitions from major- to minor-key iterations of his themes, his gradual building of the streams of conflicting emotions within the architectural grandeur of the opening movement, and not least, the almost reckless tempos he brought to the third and fourth movements.

There were times I wondered whether high-contrast juxtapositions and pushing the extremes were the only tools in Vondráček’s interpretive arsenal. Determining that will require hearing him again, in a broader selection of works. This introductory performance, though, made that a welcome prospect.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: kozinn

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