Ullman- the supreme stylist

Alexander Ullman the supreme stylist
Alexander Ullman at the Wigmore Hall
Little did I expect to be overwhelmed by Stravinsky twice in the same week in the same hall but that was just the case today .
Alexander Ullmans extraordinary performance today of the Firebird with only two hands was every bit as overwhelming as Andsnes and Hamelin’s Rite of Spring had been last week with four .
This extraordinary transcription was written by my old teacher Guido Agosti when he was only 27 in 1928 – only eight years after Stravinsky’s own transcription of Petroushka  which he dedicated to Rubinstein in an effort to convince him to play his music.
Agosti’s transcription is even more demanding that Stravinsky’s.
The colours and orchestral sounds that Agosti manages to conjure up together with the same savage rhythms that require the most enormous technical feats of agility and an almost polyphonic sense of line that spans the whole keyboard and ranges from pianississimo to fortissimo.
Andsnes,Hammelin,Rubinstein all great virtuosi but above all supreme stylists .
To this list we can add today the name of this remarkable young british pianist Alexander Ullman .
Student of William Fong at the Purcell School .Of Fleisher in Philadelphia and now at the Royal College with Ian Jones and Dmitri Alexeev.
The supreme control was not only in the virtuoso parts that certainly abound but also in the security that brought the savage driving rhythms to life and all this combined with an extraordinary range of colours .
The appearance of the melody in the Finale of the Firebird was sheer magic.
A rising sun that was allowed to shine in all its glory and brought this remarkable recital to a conclusion.
Liszt’s magical En Reve was just the right encore that allowed us to share just a little more magic from the hands of this remarkable young artist.
Bach’s Toccata in C minor showed right from the outset the intelligence of this young musician but it also made clear that this was a performance by a stylist not by a rigid scholar.
Although all Bach’s tempo markings were scrupulously noted Bach has in fact left much to the fantasy of the performer.
The slur at the end of the first subject was unexpected as was the echo effect on repetition but in the hands of such a stylist it was totally convincing as were the virtuoso interruptions seemingly almost improvised.
Nothing was added to Bach’s original score but it had the same power as a Busoni transcription and had one wondering why it is not more often played on the piano.
I think the last person I heard play it was that other supreme stylist Martha Argerich as a curtain raiser to the Liszt Sonata in Florence in 1972.
It has remained in my memory ever since as indeed today’s performance will for me and without doubt the very full audience that were present today.
Papillons op 2 by Schumann were an ideal choice after the Bach .
The freedom allied to a strict sense of direction and line were combined with all the kaleidoscopic sound world of Florestan and Eusebius .
The wonderfully lyrical 5th piece sang out as did the middle section of the 10th.
The quiet rhythmic build up in the 9th made a wonderful foil to the searing beauty of the 10th that is so reminiscent of the Davidsbundler op 6 that were to follow from Schumann’s pen.
If I found the fortissimo in the 8th piece rather overpowering his interpretation was completely vindicated by the final magical piece where Schumann’s pedal was scrupulously noted and opened up this magic box allowing the clock to strike so clearly as indeed Ravel was to do in Le Gibet.
The Pas de Deux at the conclusion of Pletnev’s wonderful transciption of The Nutcracker must be every pianists dream to play.
A secret wish to be a Liberace or Rawitz and Landauer.
But it requires supreme virtuosity to be able to sweep up and down the keyboard whilst allowing Tchaikowsky’s melody to sing out in all its glory.
Magical playing too in the Intermezzo where the wash of sound was a completely different sound world from the music box that was the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Russian Trepak played with all the peasant folk music that it portrays provided just the difference in sound from the quite extraordinary Chinese Dance.
Pletnev had played the Sleeping Beauty in my theatre in Rome many years ago and we marvelled at this old style virtuosity of the great romantic tradition a world we thought we would never experience in our day.
I remember Sandor asking why he wanted to be a conductor when he can play the piano like that .
The same supreme sense of control, colour and style that we heard today at the Wigmore Hall .
All thanks to YCAT and to the Keyboard Trust that has had such faith in this young man and in helping him mature into the artist we have before us today .
I think you could safely say that they have come up” trumps”.


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