Uto Ughi plays Beethoven
Celebrating the 250th anniversary of his birth, Sony Music Entertainment presents four major reissues devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven in its series of Classical Masters. Among the treasures in these new budget-priced sets are the complete symphonies, string quartets and violin sonatas performed by illustrious musicians of the past century.
The Italian violinist Uto Ughi studied with Enesco, was signed by EMI while still in his teens and went on to become a major RCA artist in the 1980s and 90s. In 1978, he recorded Beethoven’s 10 Violin Sonatas with Lamar Crowson, whom none less than Alfred Brendel described as “one of the finest chamber music pianists of our day”. The set was acclaimed on its release in Italy on LPs but has been largely unavailable since then, making this first release on four albums particularly enticing to the many admirers of these two superb musicians.
Sony Classical’s budget price release of a 1978 Beethoven cycle originally issued by Dischi Ricordi featuring violinist Uto Ughi and pianist Lamar Crowson comes as a welcome surprise. The 34-year-old Ughi’s instrumental mastery and intelligent musicianship were captured at the cusp of his early maturity. His burnished, almost viola-like sonority is firmly focused in every register, abetted by impeccable intonation and a knack for tossing off the most difficult passagework with flawless ease. More to the point, however, Ughi consistently taps into the sometimes stressful dramatic, dynamic, and emotional contrasts that characterize Beethoven’s style, as does his expert collaborator Lamar Crowson.
The G major Op. 30 No. 3’s Allegro assai exemplifies this in how the duo offsets their fleet and winged treatment of Beethoven’s lyrical themes with appropriately hard-hitting szforzandos and driving climaxes. Another cogent case of “opposites attracting” can be found in both the refinement of the rapid runs and the unfettered dynamic surges in the A minor Op. 23 Allegro molto finale (sound clip). Listeners also will notice the playfully dovetailed imitative writing in the “Spring” and Op. 30 No. 2 Scherzi, and, conversely, the controlled rapture of Op. 96’s sublime central movement, where Ughi’s sheer tonal beauty and seamless bow control yield no quarter to the immense catalogue competition.
Each variation in the “Kreutzer” sonata’s middle movement conveys a distinct character, yet easily flows from one to the next. I also like how Ughi’s unexpected accents or points of emphasis appear to push the finale’s scurrying triplets ahead of the beat, yet never actually do so. In this sonata, however, Crowson proves less assertive a partner than the conductor/pianist Wolfgang Sawallisch in Ughi’s stunning and slightly superior early digital-era RCA Victor remake, coupled with the “Spring”. A pity that these later alternative readings didn’t find their way into this bargain box, along with Ughi’s still-artistically-competitive and long unavailable RCA Beethoven concerto with Sawallisch conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. Still, the 1978 Ughi/Crowson cycle is a veritable sleeper, worth considering as a supplement alongside the Dumay/Pires, Perlman/Ashkenazy, and Grumiaux/Haskil reference versions.
– ClassicsToday (Jed Distler)
Release Date: December 06, 2019
Catalog Number: 19075956262
Label: Sony Music Entertainment
Number of Discs: 4
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer: Uto Ughi, Lamar Crowson
Sonatas (10) for Violin and Piano
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer: Uto Ughi (Violin), Lamar Crowson (PIano)