Florian Uhlig (piano) lunchtime recital at St.James' Church, Garlickhythe, 8 February 2000.
For quite some time, many of London's countless churches, primarily intended for prayers and religious services, have also opened their doors for another kind of service, which from a wider point of view one could also call religious - lunchtime recitals. Free admission, and the possibility to discover young, talented musicians in short, often unusual, programmes ensures that those concerts play an important part in London' s daily music pulse. But there are certain, more experienced, artists who would be well advised to be choosy about which churches to perform in, because of inadequate pianos and intrusive outside noise.
The German born pianist Florian Uhlig (25), a pupil of Peter Feuchtwanger and Detlef Kraus, who now resides in London, belongs in that category. He had been badly advised to give his most recent recital right next to Upper Thames Street, one of the busiest roads in the City of London.
Having followed the development of this gifted musician over the past couple of years, I remember vividly his London orchestral debut at the Barbican, with the English premiere of the piano concerto by Clara Schumann, and his sensitive, ear-catching interpretation of Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata at a piano festival in Bavaria last year.
But most of all I will never forget my first encounter with Florian Uhlig in the Steinway Hall of Fame in London three years ago, at a recital which he finished with his own virtuoso Toccata (1995). That evening, I felt that the style, sound and attitude of a Clara Haskil were reborn to live on in another century. Uhlig is not only a truly great pianist and chamber music partner, as well as a promising composer - he is foremost one of those rare personalities whose musical understanding and skills take care of the composer whatever the demands, and without the restraint of any personal ego. Having observed many famous piano competitions over the years, and listened to endless young pianists from all over the globe, I can not even count a handful of artists such as Florian Uhlig.
This present recital, given under difficult circumstances, had to make up for my having missed him at Wigmore Hall in September 1999, when Rick Jones of the London Evening Standard wrote "..a brilliant musician... Nothing declared his virtuosity more than his rapid-fire left-hand octaves in Liszt' s Funerailles... a singing performance of Beethoven' s Waldstein Sonata...His programme was refreshingly intelligent."
Having just returned from Munich with a second "Rose" award for an outstanding contribution to the city's cultural life, whilst talking to his City audience about the thematic idea behind his recital - songs without words, with a slight Venetian flavour - he was in no mood to find himself overpowered by the noise level outside St.James,.
Slender and tall, with a boyish look and enormous charm, Florian Uhlig completely changed the moment he took his place at the piano. He showed no tension and his posture was immaculate, while the bond between his mind and his fingers communicated the music. Already with two Mendelssohn Venetian Gondola Songs I was completely spellbound. The beauty of his pianissimo, the phrasing and the maturity of his musical understanding created an atmosphere which made the outside noise disappear. Only at the very end of the second song a police car brought me back to reality.
With three short works by Chopin (Nocturne op.9, No.3, Valse BI 133 and Barcarolle op.60) Uhlig demonstrated a most distinctive and rare understanding of a composer, who transformed the piano into a bel canto instrument - indeed songs without words of pure lyricism. Liszt' s transcription of Schubert' s song Frühlingsglaube and the invocation Der du von dem Himmel bist from Harmonies poetiques et religieuses were interpreted with outmost clarity and delicacy. One completely forgot the technical difficulties, as it all sounded so easy and pure. Finally, with La Bella Capricciosa by Hummel, Florian Uhlig gave an example of his effortless virtuosity, always devoted to the wit and complexity of the work and never for its own sake. Chant de la Gondoliere by the little known German composer Johann Josef Abert (1832-1915) rounded off a memorable lunchtime recital given by a pianist, whom for good reasons had been chosen by the legendary German baritone Hermann Prey as his last accompanist (there is a concert CD of them together: Urakant HMT 97001).
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