Uto Ughi, trained initially in Siena and one of George Enescu’s last pupils in Paris, is a violinist of distinctive character. Some will enjoy the depth of his tone—dark and rich on the lower strings, with a mighty and conspicuous vibrato—whilst others may find his approach overblown, leaving not enough to the listener’s own imagination. Certainly, Ughi is an extreme example of post-war trends in violin playing and his is an approach that will not previously have been heard upon the two historic instruments in his possession: the 1701 ‘ex-Kreutzer’ Stradivari and the 1744 ‘ex-Grumiaux’ Guarneri.
Aesthetic judgements aside, Ughi’s intonation—sharp in high registers, especially—will be problematic to many ears; this is not helped by the use of vibrato in passagework (a fashion often ascribed to Kreisler but in fact rather more a habit of later twentieth-century players).
Ughi’s Bach A minor Concerto (2005) is richly played, with steady tempi and stylistically-anachronistic vibrato, but the finale has much spirit. The Classical works here (Beethoven, Spohr and Viotti, all recorded in 2006) are rendered in Ughi’s modern style that would have been quite alien to the composers in question. The Beethoven Romance in G is slow and tremulous, with orchestral traits reminiscent of the Berlin Philharmonic in the 1960s. Spohr’s Concerto No. 8 is subject to the kind of wide vibrato that its composer disliked, while showing a studied avoidance of the portamento on large leaps, an effect of which he was a well-known advocate. Nonetheless, Ughi’s performances are characterised with great drama.
In his 1997 Schumann recordings the Concerto’s dense textures are magnified by Ughi (where many players would attempt to relieve them) with unexpected success. The Violin Sonata No. 2 is an impassioned and dramatic reading of this colourful music and, whilst Ughi’s approach tonally is no more suitable here than in the earlier works, the dramatic scale of Schumann’s writing admits such playing rather more effectively.
As well as some remarkable recordings, Ughi’s legacy will include philanthropic and pedagogic undertakings, such as his ‘Homage’ festivals (‘Homage to Venice’; ‘…to Rome’; ‘…to Milan’). These raise funds for the preservation of historic buildings and aim to expose young people to classical music.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)