Italy Uto Ughi, soloist and conductor of Orchestra da Camera I Filarmonici di Roma: Music by Britten, Bach, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Wieniawsky, De Falla, Dvorak, Massenet and Sarasate. Auditorium Concilazione, Rome. 10 October 2012 (JB)
Every autumn welcomes Uto Ughi per Roma which could just as well be called Roma per Uto Ughi. A dozen or so concerts (this year between 25 September and 10 October) are on offer on the basis of you’re-all-invited. The venues are the city’s leading churches, concert halls and sometimes prisons, hospitals and schools. All that is necessary is to make your ticket requests known via email or phone, pick them up a day before the concert and, even if you forgot to request a ticket, by turning up at the venue, providing not all ticket-holders have turned up, the organizers will still admit you –or so some of my students tell me. Being old and lazy, I just call for press tickets.
The project has the logistic and financial backing of the State, the Church, the City, the Province and the Region of Lazio, as well as a number of banks and private donors. These last, though they include some of the city’s richest citizens, believe with Maestro Ughi, that music is among human rights and should not be reserved for an elite of either of the two C’s: Culture or Cash. This produces a democracy in which all political barriers are broken; while the State, Church and City are just now dominated by the Right, the Province and Region are to the Left, the private donors, as you would expect, are a mixed bag. (Some of them, I fear, would not like my use of that last term!) Even the city’s bankers chip in. Imagine what a spirit of generosity all this creates: almost at fever pitch. Audiences show up with the same sense of involvement as the music-makers themselves.
Plenty of space is reserved for young players. The Orchestra Giovanile Uto Ughi per Roma is made up of young players carefully selected and trained by Maestro Ughi and Bruno Aprea. Space too for young outstanding soloists. See, for example, my recent review of Alexander Romanovsky, here But neither have great and established artists been neglected: what might be called the Uto Ughi and Friends branch. On 8 October he was joined by Maryse Regard, Francesco Fiore and Franco Maggio Ormezowsky in quartets of Haydn and Schubert in the spectaculour setting of the Ara Coeli Church on the Capitoline Hill.
Generosity is perhaps the most noteworthy quality of Uto Ughi’s playing. Not since Fritz Kreisler shoved a fiddle under his chin has a violinist produced such a lush, full-bloodied sound, as though the instrument itself were bursting the boundaries of its own expression. Talk about a love affair with your instrument! This, of course, communicates itself to an audience by its outpouring, unstoppable quality. Almost a bacchanalian feast. It might not satisfy every taste. But the Romans imbibe it greedily.
Appropriately, at the final concert this year (October 10) Ughi was conductor and soloist with his Orchestra da Camera I Filarmonici di Roma (formerly known as the Orchestra da Camera di Santa Cecilia) with whom the maestro has performed on many world tours. The Britten Simple Symphony was followed by the Bach concerto in E, BVW1042, then a series of musical lollipops which beautifully highlighted his musical virtuosity.
Strings only for I Filarmonici for this programme, with the 15 players divided 5:4:3:2:1. Let it be said that each player is of some note as a soloist. Maryse Regard led from the first desk of violins, the Simple Symphony. This Opus 4 of Britten was certainly a pre-pubescent piece, reworked when he had composition lessons with Frank Bridge in his teens, with a first performance on 6 March 1934, with Britten himself conducting an amateur string orchestra. The astonishing feature is that all the wit, charm, innocence and guile –so familiar from later Britten- are already audibly in place. The trouble with this performance was that Ms Regard (and thence those following her) had as much wit and humour as Boris Karloff. Oddly, the Simple Symphony soared over this serious handicap. The players’ workmanship was so solid it came across as an unintentional pastiche of the piece: the Boisterous Bourrèe was not boisterous, the Playful Pizzicato was anything but playful, the Sentimental Saraband –well, yes, that was both those things but the Frolicsome Finale sounded like no one had told them what that key word means. Needless to say, there is no word in Italian for frolics; that is an entirely British vice. Yet it still worked. That just goes to show what a talented boy the infant prodigy Britten was.
Mature players performing this piece can be engaging when it sounds like they are letting their hair down. But as indicated, even though this undisputedly virtuoso group sounded as though they had been shorn of all hair, some of Britten’s charm still shone through.
Business-like too was the Bach concerto in E, dispatched with a no-nonsense air and admirably coloured with Ughi’s warm Mediterranean sound in the adagio.
From a teenage Britten to a teenage Mendelssohn (fourteen, to be precise) for the finale of his lesser-known violin concerto, a classical rondo. Charm and fluency –Mendelssohn’s trade-mark qualities were already present in these early pages. And Uto Ughi has buckets of both so the marriage was another happy one.
The maestro sounded a little less comfortable with the darker colours of the Tchaikovsky Valse Sentimentale but came impressively into his own in Wieniawsky’s much-encored romp, Legend, Op. 17.
I found the Dance from Vida Breve a little lightweight and not really gutsy enough, though you can never accuse Ughi of not delivering the goods. Still, De Falla is not his happiest hunting ground. The Dvorak Humoresque came over with poise and charm.
I don’t believe I shall ever hear the Intermezzo from Massenet’s Thais ever performed with such perfectly tuned nuance as Sig.a Agnieszka, who until recently was leader of the Rome Opera Orchestra. It helps, of course, to have the piece in context. Joshua Bell used to trot it out as an encore. Ughi’s Mediterranean sound, impressive though it is in its lush lyricism, somehow gets in the way of that floating Frenchness of the meditation.
For me, the highlight of the evening was the Sarasate Zingaresca. Some years ago, when I congratulated Ughi on a definitive performance of this piece, he dropped his voice to reply, Well, did you know that I actually have some gypsy blood in me? Indeed, maestro. It sounds. In everything he plays he is not only impressively involved, but succeeds in involving the entire audience. And there were some 1200 of them on this occasion.
A performance of the Dance of the Elves (from Mazzini, Paganini’s pupil) brought the supreme entertainment to a rollicking, resounding end.