Gaspard de la nuit
Piano Sonata No.1, Op.22
Mihaela Ursuleasa (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Clarke
Reviewed: 18 April, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London Queen Elizabeth Hall
Romanian-born Mihaela Ursuleasa (now resident in Vienna) is a young pianist of much promise. She shows the fearlessness of youth in programming Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit alongside the currently out-of-fashion Medtner and the stirring rhythms of Ginastera.
The first of Medtner’s ‘Forgotten Melodies’ is the Sonata-Reminiscenza. Awash with melancholy, it is a most appealing piece, especially when played with the sweet tone deployed by Ursuleasa. Interestingly, Ursuleasa remained stock-still at the work’s opening (she was much more volatile and mobile later on!). If her tone hardened a little at forte and occasionally the sustaining pedal over-blurred textures, this was a reading of real strength.
Continuing the ‘internalised’ emotions of the recital’s first half, Schumann’s Fantasiestücke was given a more pedestrian account. Moments of hesitancy and some less-than-sure fingers detracted a little from the built-up concentration but, nevertheless, there were some lovely touches. If the mystery of ‘Warum?’ was a bit low and there was a muddied bass to ‘Grillen’, ‘In der Nacht’ was nicely shaded and ‘Traumes Wirren’ almost had the requisite ease.
The recital’s second half was virtuoso and extrovert. Gaspard de la nuit has a fine interpreter in Ursuleasa. In her interesting commentary to her recital (included in the programme booklet), Ursuleasa says she “likes to tell stones” – and what is Gaspard but a grizzly fairy-tale! Lines in ‘Ondine’ were indeed given a distinctly narrative quality. A pity the climax was low on fantasy for the rest of the movement was saturated in it (wonderful ‘horn-calls’ near the end). The bell of ‘Le Gibet’ tolled hypnotically before ‘Scarbo’ reared his face. Hard-edged accents and stunning repeated notes were superbly despatched, but perhaps an even more daredevil approach would have clinched the deal. At the end, relief was etched deep on Ursuleasa’s face.
Ursuleasa states eloquently that “Ginastera’s Sonata Op.1 seems to be releasing the mystery that was in the Ravel with its strong polyrhythms and explosive character” and she certainly captured its jazz influences. Plenty of energy here (indeed, the second subject could have been more contrasted). Accuracy was laudable, too, in the tricky Presto misterioso. Each movement’s character was celebrated by Ursuleasa, who sustained the atmosphere of the ‘Adagio molto appassionato’ before letting loose the furious dance rhythms of the finale.
Ursuleasa certainly has the talent to grow into a major artist and she exhibits an imaginative streak in both programming and (sporadically) in playing that many young pianists would do well to emulate. Her encores – a Toccata (by a Romanian composer) and one of Chopin’s Nocturnes – were perfect post-prandial confections.