In a world where child musical prodigies appear then fade away with distressing regularity, it is refreshing to see the great Italian violinist Uto Ughi, who made his mark performing the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 at the age of seven, take on a programme that any virtuoso violinist in his or her prime would consider highly demanding.
Ughi's practice and exercise regimen were highlighted in a pre-concert interview, and it was obvious to anyone listening that the septuagenarian had all the energy and technique to take on Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata. Many violinists choose to perform this as a closing piece, after a thorough warm up of their instrument, but Ughi and pianist Bruno Canino just strode on to the stage at the Victoria Concert Hall on Thursday and played without delay. Tempo solidly steady, Ughi breezed through Tartini's trills, and the musicians took on this technical rollercoaster without batting an eyelid.
The Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata that followed gave the pair more room to express their musicianship, and they impressed thoroughly. Ughi's bowing and fluency have long gained the admiration of audiences and his violin tone was elegant and clear. Canino's articulation and exemplary rhythmic drive made for a seamless partnership, although it sometimes overwhelmed Ughi's mildly muted top end. What marked this performance as very special was how the pair captured the range of emotion and energy in Beethoven's dramatic writing without resorting to excessive romanticism.
The second half began with Dvorak's 4 Romantic Pieces For Violin And Piano. The work gave the musicians more room to express their lyricism, with Ughi turning on his best cantabile (singing) tone. Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso followed. By now Ughi's violin tone had fully opened up, and Canino's sprightly accompaniment made this the highlight of the second half.
Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy closed the concert, and Ughi and Canino played it as if this was their first work of the evening. The players fully captured the carefree spirit of Bizet's opera Carmen, and performing all five movements without break brought a much appreciated continuity to the music.
Ughi and Canino's recital is a testament to how music energises the body and the spirit. Ughi performed with total commitment and dynamism from the opening Devil's Trill to encore. Canino, more than 10 years his senior, was every bit as alert and energetic.
While there were a few wayward notes and the occasional missed harmonic over the evening, Ughi's musicianship and sincerity shone through, with Canino very much an equal partner. This concert was presented by the Italian Cultural Institute to commemorate SG50, and it is gratifying to see that for these Italian masters, age is no barrier to their making great music.