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S & H Recital Review

Beethoven, Schubert, Hindemith, Prokofiev: Mihaela Ursuleasa (Piano), Wigmore Hall, 2nd February 2004 (H-T W)


This recital, presented by The Anglo-Austrian Music Society, was dedicated to Hedi Stadlen (née Simon), philosopher, political activist and musicologist, who died recently at the age of 88. She was married to another Austrian Jewish emigrant, the eminent pianist, musicologist and music critic Peter Stadlen, who died eight years ago. Owing to both we now know about the correct intentions of Beethovenīs metronome markings.

They were inseparable as a couple. Having been introduced to them at the ROH in the late seventies, I remember vividly all the many quite often short, but honest, deeply involving but polite conversations we had before or during the interval of a concert or a first night at the opera – I could not imagine that it would finally come to an end. Hedi Stadlen did not have any musical background, but thanks to her rich and fulfilled marriage she knew more about music than most of us critics. I personally miss her very much. Once she said, and I quote from the inlet to the concert program, "the contribution made by Hitlerīs émigrés will be a good omen that current waves of émigrés from other tyrannies may be equally allowed to enrich the cultural life of Great Britain." One can only be ashamed of our current government.

After a short recollection of Hedi Stadlenīs life by the Chairman of the Anglo-Austrian Music Society the pretty and still only 25 years old Romanian pianist Mihaela Ursuleasa, winner of the Clara Haskil Competition in 1995, came on stage. I had missed her London debut at the South Bank in March 2002 and was, therefore, eager to hear her play what, on paper, appeared a promising program. Yet, despite showing us her huge potential there were many general shortcomings.

Her playing turned out to be far too involved. Sadly, her long black hair covered her face too often, and when she got too intimate with the music, or the instrument, or both, one could no longer admire her `brilliantī mimicry. Her entire posture gave the impression of extreme tension, something she has to overcome for her own futures sake. She started with Beethovenīs 15 Variations and a Fugue in E flat on an original theme, op.35, the Eroica Variations. It is a warhorse with endless differentiations in mood and character, but despite the first enormous fff chord in E flat, those Variations are still by Beethoven and not by Liszt. Her phrasing possessed far too many mannerisms and her interpretation felt like a journey from volcanic energy to boredom, from kitsch to Viennese `Heurigenī. Her staccato, and also her fortissimo, are painful and turned out to be merely an effect without tonal expression.  Her pianissimo is often hardly audible and the sound does not sustain, but disappears at once. She plays in extremes and with far too much use of the right pedal.

All of this did not help the dimension of the four movements of Schubertīs rarely played Sonata No.18 in G, D894 either. It was very difficult to follow the structure of Schubertīs intimate - and for his time - unusual thinking because she extended Schubertīs spacious tempi even further, and too often without the necessary legato. She herself seemed very much involved, but her interpretative skills did not involve me.

After the interval she surprised with the short, but lively Sonata No.2 in G by Paul Hindemith, a composer sadly neglected in this country. She would have done this delicate work more proud with less pedalling. Finally, with Prokofievīs Sonata No.7, Op.83, the second of his three `war sonatasī, Mihaela Ursuleasa was in her element as a powerful player with great technical abilities. The concluding Precipitato made her jump up and down from her chair. Her recital showed a healthy ego and an undoubted love for making music, but not yet the humbleness and surging honesty of her compatriots Clara Haskil or Dinu Lipati in the music of these composers. At the end she invited the audience backstage to have her new privately manufactured CD signed. Finally, she explained publicly, why she choose the works she played. She loves them all and she wanted to confront the audience with works of extremes. It seems the audience had not realised that.

Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt





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