The South African pianist Tessa Uys has had a substantial concert career and made a clutch of recordings. She has worked, her biography in the glossy programme tells us, with eminent conductors such as Walter Susskind, Louis Frémaux and Sir Neville Marriner. She comes from an intellectually illustrious family. She had no difficulty in almost filling the Wigmore Hall, yet, this was possibly the least successful recital I have ever attended.
Week after week, one hears pianists who are ’almost’ the real thing, usually whose technical facility is not matched by their originality or imagination, who lack the last degree that elevates good to great. Unfortunately, the characteristics of this recital were such as to see all such pianists in a new and favourable light, to recognise how much work goes into even a routine performance.
I have no knowledge as to whether Tessa Uys’s abilities are in decline – on this recital’s evidence she appears to lack the technique appropriate to a professional pianist. There were far more wrong notes throughout than is consistent with modern standards, endless moments when the hands seemed unintentionally out of synchronisation, and very few chords that were properly weighted – that is where the overall sound was correctly balanced. There were many moments, such as the chordal episode in the Schubert finale, where the tempo was adjusted to suit technical difficulty and the performer’s effort was concentrated on this, and not on communicating any interpretative content. At times, such as in the Schubert first movement development, long passages seemed to teeter on the edge of disaster, technically and in terms of memory.
In this context, it was quite impossible to judge Uys’s interpretation of the music, so distracting were her flaws. It was easier to notice a number of extremely peculiar ornaments in the Bach, a lack of appropriate idiom in the Janáček (especially after András Schiff’s impeccable rendering of this music just this season) and a hesitancy completely alien to the spirit of the Liszt. Uys was never able to sustain a mood, a sense of structure or any perception of drama for more than a few seconds.
This recital left me completely mystified. Today, when many competent pianists vie for professional success, it was meaningless.