sat 01/11/2014

Mitsuko Uchida, Royal Festival Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews

Mitsuko Uchida, Royal Festival Hall

Uchida's riveting Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin

No one does introspection like Mitsuko Uchida

Mitsuko Uchida’s playing is a glorious collusion of intellect and fantasy. Her recitals are meticulously planned but seemingly unexpected with chosen pieces impacting upon each other in ways one might not have imagined. Three keyboard giants – Beethoven, Schumann, and Chopin – were the meat of this recital with not an incidental or superfluous note to be found anywhere. No time off for good behaviour, no fillers, no jolly encores, just bags of unsettling subtext and moments of devastating introspection. Nobody does introspection quite like Uchida, nobody shrinks the Festival Hall quite like she does. Up close and personal is what we expect and what we get.

When did you last hear a recital begin as obtusely as this one? Beethoven’s Sonata in E minor, Op 90 asks as many questions as it answers, pitting the lyric against the imperative in wilful and perverse ways. An attempt to cast aside uncertainty and rejoice in the songful second movement comes to naught. Uchida was careful not to signal the surprises or soften the seemingly inexplicable volte-faces. The sudden and maniacal presto into the gleeful pay-off was fooling no one – the little joke was no joke at all.

What, one wonders, was Beethoven thinking at that moment? Was it simply a shrug of the shoulders? Did he just want to get the piece done and dusted? It’s easier to keep tabs on Robert Schumann’s feelings in a piece like Davidsbündlertänze, Op 6, which plays out his stream of consciousness as a series of uncontrollable choreographic urges. The dancing partners are Robert and Clara, no question, but the seemingly never ending succession of wild and precipitous, extravagant or painfully intimate dances have little to do with the physical and everything with the emotional. Uchida chronicled them with an astonishing range of earthly and unearthly colours, sleep-waltzing into the ravishing final sequence of Book Two as if to confirm that the last dance was not of this lifetime.

The Chopin half of the programme was for me more special still. The juxtaposition of the Prelude in C sharp minor, Op 45, and Sonata No 3 in B minor, Op 58, was an instance of pure Uchida magic, the searching sostenuto of the prelude as a deep intake of breath into the arresting maestoso which opens the sonata. The revelations here were all harmonic – from the typical second subject of the first movement, positively festooned in singing voices, and the daring density of the ensuing development to the great Largo (is there anything finer in Chopin?) where the funeral procession turns lullaby like a kind of heartbroken Kindertotenlied. Uchida was thrilling in the tumultuous finale, too, with her cascading right hand dazzlingly brilliant. But I say again it was her zealous appreciation of Chopin’s harmonic genius – the weighing and testing of every chord and counterpoint - that lifted this reading from the accomplished into the sublime.

Uchida chronicled the dances with an astonishing range of earthly and unearthly colours, sleep-waltzing into the ravishing final sequence of Book Two

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