S&H Recital review

Piano Recital by Florian Uhlig, Wigmore Hall, Wednesday, 10th October 2001 (H-TW)


Only pianists, endlessly pushed by the media, or former famous child protégés, guarantee a full house nowadays. And sad as it is, it is not the art of playing the piano that counts but the circus created around a pianist and the circus a pianist is capable of creating for himself.

It speaks volumes for the young German, but London based pianist, Florian Uhlig that he may soon play in front of a sold out Wigmore Hall. His recent Wigmore recital had already been two thirds full and heard by an enthusiastic audience. Word-of-mouth advertising should soon catapult him to the top, where he belongs. His taste and antenna for exceptional programming, consisting of unknown or rarely heard pieces, mixed with one important work from the repertoire, and towards the end, some virtuoso literature, creates curiosity and is fascinating. So too is his attitude towards the music and the piano. He is not a keyboard acrobat, or a showman, but a deeply surging musician with an incredibly natural and fluent technique, who also possesses the rare gift to transform the piano into a belcanto instrument whenever the music asks for it.

When he plays his body does not move, but he is so much at ease with the music that his playing moves an audience willing to listen. He started his recital with two sets of variations by Beethoven, the 6 Variations on a Swiss Song in F major WoO 64 and the 12 Variations on the Russian Dance from Wranitzky´s ballet "Das Waldmärchen" in A major WoO 7. Beethoven wrote a huge number of variations, but those two hardly ever appear on the concert platform. Their charm and fluidity proved to be the ideal prelude - with one tiny reservation. From my press seat in the right corner of the second last row, where any sound is always slightly over-acoustic as long as the hall is not sold out, I got the feeling that Uhlig may have slightly overused the pedal. Quite often the clarity, one of Ulhlig´s trademarks, got lost.

Schumann´s Fantasy in C major, opus 17, a gigantic work in memory of Beethoven using a theme of his song cycle An die ferne Geliebte as leitmotiv, followed. Schumann had prefaced the published score with a quotation by the German poet Friedrich von Schlegel: "Among all the sounds on earth's motley dream, one soft note is audible to he who listens inwardly." Uhlig understood how to translate those words into musical reality. Taking Schumann´s complaint into account that players treat this work far too thunderously ("it is pre-eminently dreamy - the opposite of noisy and heavy!") his interpretation allowed every nuance to shine without ever losing the overall control. Sadly, the audience did not know the work too well and applauded after the virtuoso ending of the second movement. Here, Uhlig did not yet have the necessary experience to cope with such a sudden and unexpected interruption. Instead of calming the audience down with his hands and keeping his concentration he bowed to the audience. Therefore, the delicate slow last movement had to stand on its own two feet.

After the interval, Florian Uhlig´s sense for musical connections confronted us with more surprises: the Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann in F sharp minor op.9 by Brahms, another little known highlight, played with sensitive insight, and Three Impromtus op.12 by the sadly neglected William Sterndale Bennett. Schumann found in Bennett´s piano pieces "a true Claude Lorrain in music terms", while his symphonic and chamber music output created the so called English School. For the rest of the program Uhlig looked towards Spain and I got the feeling that following his first CD Venezia, for the label Black Box, there may be another CD with a Spanish connection in the pipeline. Enrique Granados´ Capricho espanol op.39, Louis Moreau Gottschalk´s Souvenir d´Andalousie and Caprice espagnol op.37 by Moritz Moszkowski turned out to be a sheer delight of often astonishing and sparkling music making. I wish that Black Box would give Florian Uhlig the chance to record as much Gottschalk as possible. To the best of my knowledge there is nobody else around who plays his music with such instinct, purity, wit, liveliness and technical prowess. To close his recital Florian Uhlig electrified the audience with two encores: Butterfly from Lyric Pieces by Edward Grieg and Die Mücke (The Mosquito) by the German salon composer von Olbersleben.

Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt

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