Dina Ugorskaja’s Slow, Serious, and (Mostly) Static Brahms

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 7

Dina Ugorskaja’s death from cancer in September 2019 at the age of 47 robbed the musical world of a remarkable pianist, whose recordings of late Beethoven sonatas, Schumann’s Kreisleriana, and the complete Bach Well-Tempered Clavier attested to her force of personality and serious outlook. Her way with Brahms’ D minor concerto, however, is almost too serious.

The statically slow tempos for the outer movements generate little forward-moving impetus or contrapuntal strife, save for uncommon left-hand prominence in the Rondo’s main theme. While Ugorskaja’s octaves and trills are clean and supple, they hardly speak to the music’s inherent power and rage. Compare, for example, the inner urgency and note-to-note tension distinguishing similarly slow first movements from Buchbinder/Harnoncourt or Zimerman/Bernstein, and you’ll hear what’s missing. Ugorskaja fares strongest in the Adagio, where her protracted time scale and hypnotically sustained phrasing conceptually and emotionally mesh.

The engineering places her piano in the middle of the orchestral image, captured at a distance that renders much of the instrumental detail as a diffuse and heavy-handed mix. To be fair, conductor Peter Gülke brings sharp delineation to the Rondo’s Fughetta, and the momentous majesty of the Coda is akin to having power restored after a blackout. For the record, Ugorskaja (like Pollini) resolves the two-bar phrase leading into the Fughetta by adding an unwritten B-flat bass note on the downbeat of measure 238.

The darkly brooding, linearly oriented readings of Brahms’ three Op. 117 Intermezzi represent Ugorskaja at her communicative and poetic best, and are worth the price of this disc, along with the concerto’s slow movement.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Op. 15: Freire/Chailly (Decca); Fleisher/Szell (Sony), Op. 117: Emanuel Ax (Sony); Volodos (Sony)

    Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor Op. 15; Three Intermezzi Op. 117
  • Dina Ugorskaja (piano)
  • Brandenburger Symphoniker, Peter Gülke

  • MDG - 901 2118 6
  • SACD

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