Uto Ughi per Roma:Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart Performed at Annual Free Music Festival

ItalyItaly  Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart: Orchestra Giovanile Uto Ughi per Roma with Uto Ughi (violinist and conductor) and young soloists, Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, Rome, 27.9.2011

Uto Ughi is in love with Rome. And Rome is in love with Uto Ughi. This happy  coincidence has resulted  – every September since 1999 – in Uto Ughi per Roma, a week’s cycle of daily concerts, backed by communal, regional and national authorities and with tickets just for the asking, most evenings with the participation of the great violinist himself. He pushes forward exceptional young musical talent (one evening was a recital by Danil Trifonov, winner of this year’s Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky competitions, and my apologies for not being available to report on that) and the Orchestra Giovanile Uto Ughi per Roma (whose players are chosen by the maestro on his visits to a group of conservatories and then have the benefit of his training). Could there be a happier context for making music?

Nor does the audience consist of the regular Roman concert-goers. There is a hushed, respectful silence during the music but they applaud at the end of every movement.  Spontaneously. This ups the happiness stakes. It also shows that there is an audience for this music which is serious, but is not able to attend concerts at today’s ticket prices. A Marxist music organisation anyone? Still, Maestro Ughi is passionately Roman Catholic and a friend of the Vatican, who in turn provide him with some of the most impressive venues for his concerts for today’s Romans.

The concert of this report was held in the magnificent Basilica di Santa Mariain Ara Coeli, a Baroque church of awesome lofty nobility and with a remarkably good acoustic. Even I could become a Christian in these surroundings. It truly is enough to make you believe in God.   About a thousand people were seated and others were standing. The obligatory firemen on duty seemed to have turned a blind eye to any “safety regulations”.  A genuine good-time-was-had-by-all situation such as the city rarely experiences.

The principal cello of this young orchestra was Alberto Casadei (my report on this greatly gifted player from my visit to this summer’s Pontino Festival here). He was also the soloist in the Vivaldi Double Concerto in B flat, RV 547 for violin and cello. Casadei has already played this concerto with Ughi, but on this occasion the maestro passed the part over to Silvia Mazzon, the orchestra’s leader. The cellist conducted from his bow and exuded all the bristling energy of the two outer movements both as conductor and cellist. Conviction is the name of the game here and Alberto Casadei has buckets of it. Silvia Mazzon had the music in front of her (in case of a memory slip?), though she scarcely looked at it, but wisely kept her eyes on Alberto and his magic bow. As a result, the monstrously difficult semiquavers of the finale were precisely together and appropriately vivace. Alberto has this music already streaming through his blood while Silvia has it merely well-placed in her head. On second thoughts, that “merely” is grossly unfair: her fingers were at work perfectly, too.

The concert’s opening piece was Vivaldi’s B Minor Symphony for strings FX1 n7 (an adagio introduction followed by an allegro; more of an overture than a symphony in any later use of the term). These Vivaldi overtures can be something of a non-event, unless some insightful work is wrought upon them to bring them to life. No one knows this better than Uto Ughi, but he had somehow failed to convey this to the players. The playing was correct. But correctness is not enough with Vivaldi.

That vital spark was also lacking in Bach’s D Major Concerto for three violins BWV 1064 (Riccardo Bonaccini, Michelangelo Lentini, Carlo Vicari). True Baroque tradition was followed with the first violin also acting as conductor. He has an impressive musical personality, too, and was leading in a sense which might have been too much for Bach’s ensemble requirements. The third violin sounded weaker than the others, but this may have been caused by his instrument rather than his performance.

Uto Ughi was soloist and conductor in the remaining two pieces. Here is a violinist who is inclined to “romanticise” everything he plays. The sound is always rich and sonorous, sexy even, though also infused with an attractive delicacy. It used to be called the Mediterranean Sound. Something of a rarity these days, it showed itself as eminently suitable for Beethoven’s Romance no.1 in G, op. 40.  The slow middle section was as moving a performance as you will ever hear. Sincerity is an Ughi hallmark.

Uto Ughi was right to remind the audience that Mozart’s five violin concertos (written rapidly in succession, one after the other and with no corrections) are among the most Italianate of his works. He played number 3 in G, K216, and it was again the slow movement which stood out.  This is where the Mediterranean came out: a gentle sun, too, which warms the ear and mind but doesn’t burn. The rondo finale was a little slow for my taste and a little lacking in carefree abandon, which on other occasions has been a Ughi speciality. All the same, the audience took away a memorable evening.

Jack Buckley