Mitsuko Uchida, Royal Festival Hall | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Mitsuko Uchida, Royal Festival Hall
Schoenberg and Schumann make for an exquisite recital
The magic usually descends quickly in a Mitsuko Uchida recital but the opening Bach of this rescheduled Festival Hall concert - a pair of Preludes and Fugues from Book 2 of The Well-Tempered Klavier - took a while to draw attention from the farthest reaches of this unfriendly recital space. Could it be that the Prelude of the C major Prelude and Fugue was too assertive, strident even (not a word one normally ever associates with Uchida), or that the, to my mind, inappropriate rubato somehow disturbed the perfect equilibrium of the music? The opening of the F sharp minor Prelude settled the uneasiness and through its fantasy concentrated our hearing and our minds. The bird of paradise (so suggestive of Uchida’s diaphanous turquoise top) began to emerge.
And then - miraculously - the space was diminished and our ears and emotions were fine-tuned through the extreme intimacies of Schoenberg’s Six Little Pieces Op.19. “Little” is a big word here because in these astonishing miniatures there is a world of expression in microcosm. Big ideas, big emotions, are simply concentrated into fleeting moments where every note is not just crucial but startlingly resolute and resonant. It was amazing how Viennese they sounded under Uchida’s fingers - tiny lyric phrases were rendered almost luxuriant; the germination of piquant dances were ländlers waiting to happen. In the sixth and final piece one might have asked for whom the distant bells tolled. But it was for Mahler.
How perceptive of Uchida to close her recital with this masterpiece
The rest of the evening was devoted to the great Schumann. First there were the “forest murmurs” of Waldszenen where the voices of lost children seemed permeate every episode. There are more dances here - transfigured dances - and they are strange, distracted, ethereal, and oblique, only occasionally asserting themselves in fully primary colours. Uchida was mindful always of the “disturbances” within these pieces leaning into the hurtful dissonances and twinges of anxiety. The famous “Vogel als Prophet” (“Bird as Prophet”) sequence was Uchida at her finest, the consoling chorale emerging transcendently from this extraordinary dusk chorus.
The Second Sonata in G minor seemed almost to overwhelm Uchida at times - which is precisely the feeling one expects from it. So much of this piece is tempestuous, impassioned to the point of hectoring, but at the heart of it is a songful slow movement where Uchida’s sense of the voice shone through a myriad accompanying details.
The playing by now had grown so aware, so exquisitely modulated, that arriving at Gesänge der Frühe (“Songs of the Dawn”) seemed beyond inevitable. How perceptive of Uchida to close her recital not with the sonata but with this “edge of reason” masterpiece penned only months before Schumann’s catastrophic breakdown. And how ironical its overriding lucidity, only those hurtful dissonances and the occasional perilous peak belying a profound unease. The opening piece had to be heard to be believed - a chordal sequence so subtle in its movement (and in Uchida’s peddling) that complete stillness prevailed.
Uchida gave only one encore - and a little shake of the head at the keyboard suggested a momentary, and quite charming, uncertainty as to what she might play. It was Mozart and it was so perfect that there was nothing more to be said.
- Read other reviews of Mitsuko Uchida on theartsdesk
- This review was also published on Edward Seckerson's website
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Classical music
Subtle connections help frame fascinating portrait of the Dutch pioneer
Lively Russian nationalist goody-bag not quite filled to the brim
Star soprano shines in adventurous new works
Early works from a French 20th century giant, Russian piano concertos and Australian saxophone music
29-year-old Lithuanian conductor follows Andris Nelsons in Birmingham
Grieg’s bold Nordic spirit conveyed, but often at the expense of his charm
Young conductor leads dynamic and detailed Haydn, Szymanowski and Dvořák
An ecologically themed pairing of Beethoven and Raskatov, memorable for all the right and wrong reasons
French piano preludes, British quartets and 14th-century choral music refracted through modern ears
Well planned tribute to a great French composer who bucked the fashion
A legendary cellist and a long Bruckner original face difficulties
Great moments in Vaughan Williams's mighty 'A Sea Symphony'