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Even so, to ignore a performance as impassioned as this one would be as unjust as it would be irresponsible. True enough, it is a young man's performance, wanting for the philosophical detachment and depth of experience such as a sagacious elderly statesman of the instrument would no doubt deliver. But there is a certain energy, in spite of it, which is appealing. From the opening salvo inaugurated by the duet between horn and piano, followed by Brahms's audacious introduction of a front-end cadenza, Mr Ungar wastes no time in establishing a magisterial presence. Without sacrificing an iota of rhythmic tension, he forsakes shadow for substance in a work that demands just that. His playing is at once affectively specific and goal oriented. In this reading, there isn't so much as a motive that hasn't been pristinely shaped and assigned an identity of its own, one that remains memorable for the entire duration of a work that relies on such material as the measure of its structural integrity [listen]. The granitic solidity of Mr Ungar's Brahms bears something in common with Richter, but it is no imitation. On the contrary, he is his own man, lending its oceanic form and fistfuls of chord progressions immediacy and intensity [listen].

Rarely have the compositional anxieties of the Scherzo sounded more robust and urgent, or its litany of compulsive surges so compelling. Mr Ungar has mapped out its gung-ho trajectory with admirable clarity, finding opportunities to drive things forward with an earnest ardency that takes neither motivic material nor passagework for granted. He likewise invests the plaintive rhetorical wail of the slow movement with the searing poignancy of a sole survivor [listen]. What a pity, then, that Mr Ungar has a less than polished collaborator in the Varna Philharmonic.

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Copyright © 8 December 2001 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA







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