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Paraphrase de Concert sur Le Varnival de Venise, op.10
ABERT Johann Joseph
Chant de la Gondolière in A flat
Canzone (from Venezia e Napoli); Richard Wagner - Venezia
UHLIG Florian
Ravi Shankar - Venezia
CHOPIN Fryderyk
Barcarolle, op.60
Lied ohne Worte op.30/6 (Venetian Gondola Song no.2); Lied ohne Worte op.19/6 (Venetian Gondola Song no. 1)
MARCELLO Benedetto
arr. Uhlig Quella fiamma che m'accende
ALKAN Charles Valentin
Barcarolle op.65/6
MALIPIERO Gian Francesco
La Lugubre Gondola
GALUPPI Baldassare
Sonata no.1 in A
FAURE Gabriel
Barcarolle no. 1 op.26
CHOPIN Fryderyk
Variations in A (Souvenir de Paganini)

Florian Uhlig (pianoforte)
black box BBM 1054 [74' 02"]
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With the regulation aggressive scowl from the performer on the front cover and a programme which contains 4 premières amongst some very well-known pieces, this looks like a challenge to the classical product as we know it. Maybe on the marketing level it is just that, but I hope it will reach more traditionally-minded listeners too, for it enshrines the work of a pianist (and composer) remarkable for his ability to create soft, evocative poetic atmospheres. An ominous note from Uhlig upholds the artist's right to modify the composer's intentions but in fact his Chopin Barcarolle is notably more straight than most. Already in the programme, in the Abert, he had demonstrated an ability which is rare today; that of separating the various voices in the texture so that melodies sing out and accompanying figures take their rightful place in the background. He begins the Chopin with a touch of liquid beauty and, where Rubinstein and Lipatti often forge ahead, he remains true to this opening mood even as the music surges towards its climax. These latter pianists do, in their very different ways, provide special insights into the last page-and-a-half where Uhlig is a little prosaic in his literalness; elsewhere their superiority is less certain, and this is high praise. What Uhlig does allow, which the other two don't, is a degree of pedal-haze. Pianists of the old school were insistent that the consecutive notes in the accompanying figure should never be blurred by pedal. On the other hand, modern ears are no longer disturbed by the resulting dissonance and there is a gain in atmosphere, especially since Uhlig's touch is sufficiently delicate as to avoid confusion.

This CD derives from Uhlig's desire to place the Barcarolle in a specifically Venetian context, rather than an all-Chopin or a string-of-popular-pieces context. It should be pointed out that barcarolles are not automatically gondola-songs, since other countries and cities have their odd patch of water here and there, but if we grant a Venetian inspiration to the Chopin the idea certainly produces a fascinating programme. Uhlig's poetic manner is well-suited to Liszt, the Mendelssohn is suitably warm-hearted (though why does he bring out the middle C in the left-hand of bar 2 as if it belonged to the melody-line?) and in the Fauré he knows that French music shouldn't dawdle too much - he keeps it refreshingly on the move. As a composer he is, on this showing, as evocatively atmospheric as his pianism might lead one to expect. His other contribution, the Marcello arrangement, will raise some eyebrows. Most people will know this melody as pertly tarted-up by Stravinsky in Pulcinella. Here it is made into a pretty salon piece. Naughty but nice.

With the Malipiero he does miss the mark, by trying to find a post-Debussyan refinement in these abrasively sardonic utterances. A Venetian birth-certificate does not guarantee suitability for a programme of this kind (I thought the same about the pleasantly-handled Galuppi Sonata). Malipiero was a true son of Venice, but the Venice which inspired him was that of the exasperatedly mannered Commedia dell'Arte. This is unlovable music, but taking the nasty edge off it doesn't make it nice.

The recital ends as it begins, with a set of variations on The Carnival of Venice. One criticism to be levelled at Uhlig is that, having written in his introduction at length about Chopin and Liszt, he offers no comment on the rarer works. In the case of Gibsone we do not even get the dates, which suggests that no information could be found. Nor have I any to offer, except that an undistinguished piece for organ was published by Novello around 1900 in an album by otherwise British composers, leading one to suppose that he was, despite his odd name, British either by birth or adoption.

In this album Uhlig shows himself to be a creative musician on several levels - performer, composer and (not least) programme-builder. I wish this warmly-recorded disc every success.

Christopher Howell.


See also:

CD Review by Peter Grahame Woolf

Concert Review by Peter Grahame Woolf and by Theo Wohlfart

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