29 JANUARY 2008 - Florian Uhlig - piano (Germany)

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The Friends of Music, a Durban organization which promotes the love of music through a very impressive concert series kicked off its 2008 season with a magnificent recital by German pianist Florian Uhlig. Mr Uhlig is definitely no stranger to Durban audiences, having made many concerto and recital appearances here during the last 10 years.

The first work on the programme was Mozart's Sonata in F Major, K332, a work which was published in Vienna in 1784, but written earlier to feature in his own concerts. It is a work which alternates fiery brilliance with passages of moving lyricism. Mr Uhlig made the most of these contrasts, and the dramatic shifts between F Major and D Minor in the first movement, which always take the listener by surprise, were not lost on him. He captured the obligatory Mozartian elegance and refinement with ease. The last movement was exceptionally fast but technical control was always in evidence. I must comment on Mr Uhlig's exemplary pedalling-- an aspect of piano playing which is often neglected. The accuracy of his pedalling, which can so easily mar a melodic line, was a constant thrill.

The first half was concluded by a rendition of Beethoven's 1802 Sonata in E flat, Op.31 no. 3. This is a four movement work which lacks the usual slow movement which is replaced by a lyrical and very well known Menuetto. The first movement was full of humour which is a feature of this piece, unusual for Beethoven. I felt that Mr Uhlig made perhaps too much of the many ritardandi which the composer indicates throughout this movement. In my opinion this seems to bring the impetus to a halt every time the theme is repeated.

However no such reservations were present in the remaining three movements. The Scherzo was light and tongue in cheek, with some fine left hand articulation, and the finale, which is really a brilliant 'tarantella' in 6/8 time, was executed with tremendous gusto.

The second half really demonstrated Mr Uhlig's vast palette of tonal colour, particularly in a ravishing account of Ravel's Jeux d'eau. The splashing of water was evoked with consummate skill, and the tremendous technical difficulties posed no problem. To me this was the highlight of the evening despite the fact that a string broke. But more of that later.

The recital was concluded with Prokofiev's Sonata no. 6 Op.82, which was composed at the start of World War II in 1939-40. It is a piece which many listeners would perhaps find difficult, but whose appeal would improve upon closer acquaintance. The programme notes described it as being "harmonically abrasive", and while this is perhaps true, the vibrant rhythm and lyrical contrasts of this work cannot fail to draw listeners into its unique sound world. Mr Uhlig made the most of the almost Impressionist lyrical sections, once again with extremely refined pedalling, but it was the wild, vivid writing of the finale which brought the recital to a thrilling conclusion.

Andrew Warburton