sat 26/07/2014

Uchida, London Symphony Orchestra, Ticciati, Barbican | Classical music reviews, news & interviews

Uchida, London Symphony Orchestra, Ticciati, Barbican

The great pianist ineffably projects Mozart's joy and sorrow, while the conductor lilts in Dvořák

Robin Ticciati earlier this year at the Proms: ripe for top LSO post?© BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Rumour machines have been thrumming to the tune of  “Rattle as next LSO Principal Conductor”. Sir Simon would, it’s true, be as good for generating publicity as the current incumbent, the ever more alarming Valery Gergiev. But if the orchestra wanted to do something fresh and daring, it would be better advised to take the plunge with Robin Ticciati, a disarming mix of youth - he’s still only 30 - and mastery; his romantic rubato, the freedom with the phrases, already strikes me as more convincing than Rattle’s has ever been, as last night's Dvořák testified.

If that more interesting appointment were to be made, we can be sure that the LSO’s beloved Sir Colin Davis, with his unstinting championship for youth, would be looking down approvingly from Up There. This concert was long ago scheduled to be his, and it’s not the first where Ticciati has stepped confidently into the breach. Mitsuko Uchida was there to wave her magic wand right at the start, dedicating Mozart’s Rondo in A minor to Sir Colin (pictured with Uchida below by Gautier Deblonde), who adored it, and hoping as she wrote in the programme to make amends for what had been a bad performance in his studio by playing it “one more time, somewhat better prepared!”

Mitsuko Uchida and Sir Colin Davis by Gautier DeblondeThat’s an understatement of the miracle that happened. A single audience-stilling note of E led us tenderly into a clear-sighted but unpredictable journey of gentle melancholy, consolation and even anger: here was the complex humanity of later Mozart in the hands of one who instantly understands the essence. Uchida’s turns and sideslips were perfect, her projection into the large hall as fine as if she were playing for each one of us.

That understanding of human nature, joy and sorrow seamlessly interwoven, continued with the wonderful partnership of Ticciati and the LSO in the G major Piano Concerto K453. It’s always apparent that the galanterie with which Mozart as often begins soon turns inward, but Ticciati had an extra shock in store first by turning it fiercely outward: not for him, or Uchida, the weak image of Mozart as sweet rococo child. The bittersweet second theme, with its keenings making a happy outcome uncertain, was ineffable from both orchestra and then soloist, strings shading their support chords with just as much care as they had the theme itself.

If anything, the slow movement trumped that. Ticciati has always dared to extend silences in music – his Glyndebourne Jenůfa was a searing first lesson in how effective that can be – and they were instrumental in creating suspense as to what the answers to the Andante’s many questions might be. What modulations, what surprises. And then we were encouraged to laugh out loud at the robust wit of the finale’s variations, from the piano’s first delighted entry to the horn charge of the coda, though again there were shadows in the nearly-naked minor variation.

Ticciati delighted in the fire and the wood magic of twilight-zone string rustlingsNaughtily, the LSO hadn’t really advertised an interloper, the world premiere of The Calligrapher’s Manuscript by Matthew Kaner, a participant in the Helen Hamlyn-supported LSO Panufnik Young Composers Scheme. Kaner knows how to put across high and low sonorities, and his woodwind curlicues did convey something of his subject's florid lettering. But the twittering of his first half and the doodles of the second still failed to step up to the mark as foreground interest; as with so many new pieces, it’s the process rather than any strong hooks for the audience which seems to interest the composer. Still, he likes the idea of melody, so let's see what happens next.

There are no problems with thematic hooks in Dvořák’s all too rarely performed Fifth Symphony: they flow in bucolic abundance from the first delighted, gurgling clarinet melody, even if the composer doesn’t always know what to do with them, symphonically speaking. Ticciati delighted in the fire, the free sweep of the first movement’s lyrical respite and the flow of the cellos’ bittersweet Dumka melody in the Andante con moto, the wood magic of twilight-zone string rustlings. And the buoyant Slavonic Dance of the scherzo suggested that this team might tackle the complete sets. It always comes as a bit of a disappointment to me that Dvořák has to lay on an unwarranted sense of struggle in the finale, energetic though it was here, and that he has to end in loud triumph. You just wish he could have laid it all to rest with more forest murmurs, and never more so given the poetry of this very Bohemian performance.

Comments

Yes, indeed! David, sincere

Yes, indeed! David, sincere thanks for your thoughtful review. How right you are to refer to Mitsuko Uchida’s performance of Mozart’s A minor Rondo K511 as a ‘miracle’. The opening bars were an exquisite utterance of such tender sadness that it spoke profoundly to all of us for whom Sir Colin’s loss still leaves an aching void. Short though this masterpiece is, Uchida’s performance was freighted not only with pathos but also worlds of human experience. It was almost unbearable to be returned to the dying iterations of the opening refrain and to have to leave the intimacy of the moment and the memory. The miracle continued into the G major Piano Concerto K453, and again you are absolutely correct in describing the partnership of Uchida and Ticciati as ‘wonderful’. I was sitting close enough to see how completely engaged the pianist was with her accompanists, and the dialogues between woodwinds and soloist in particular, whether in the yearning minor of the second movement or the Papageno frolics of the third, were exemplary. Ticciati’s conducting was both lean and lithe, and propulsive energy matched melodic flow. Frankly, few pianists today can equal Mitsuko Uchida. The range and refinement of her tone are extraordinary, at one moment floating an exquisitely moulded phrase, at the next throwing off a bravura riot in a cadenza and ending with a cheeky quip. Her sensitivity to harmonic nuance and phrase is breath-taking, and her Mozart playing on this evening was nothing short of sublime. The LSO has a nasty habit of hijacking audiences by introducing, unannounced, some short new commission. My heart sinks when I see a battery of percussion ranged behind the orchestra. We know what’s coming, and I was not disabused by Kaner’s piece. How brave of you to reveal the Emperor’s new clothes! ‘Twitterings’ and ‘doodles’ is about right, and the hesitant revelation of melodic fragments seemed wholly undistinguished. Robin Ticciati’s performance of Dvořák’s lovely 5th Symphony was an utter delight. Your appreciative and perceptive review is refreshingly free of that ‘the kid done good’ tone of which some other commentators appear unable to rid themselves when referring to him. This patronising nonsense is hopelessly misjudged. As you say, he has a superb sense of phrase, line and rubato; the first movement, with its welcome exposition repeat, breathed both energy and radiance, while the cellos’ gorgeous opening to the second heralded an exalted song from the whole orchestra. A beautifully handled transition led to an energised Scherzando and a lovely, lilting Trio. Ticciati brought the same skills to the somewhat over-argued last movement, maintaining both lyrical line and dynamic energy; he perfectly understands how Dvořák’s inimitable string melodies have to be floated over palpitating woodwinds. The LSO played superbly in all sections, producing depth and weight of string tone in the symphony and a rare mellowness and refulgence in the brass. The LSO’s wind section took wonderful solos throughout, but I would have to single out John Anderson’s ravishing oboe playing. This is the kind of sound that Sir Colin and Bernard Haitink have regularly generated, despite the incremental damage sustained under Gergiev’s regime whereby performances are sometimes scarred by the screaming coarseness that led to me abandon the latter’s concerts way back in September 2008; i.e. before the Ossetian and homophobic Russian law scandals. After the crass promotional fanfares of Gergiev’s arrival in 2007, a truly brutalised Mahler 5th and an ear-splitting Rachmaninov 2nd finished me off. So, top marks, David, for your proposal that the LSO should appoint Robin Ticciati as next Principal Conductor rather than Sir Simon Rattle. I suppose we have Tom Service and Richard Morrison to blame for the Rattle rumour, but if you read the many comments on Service’s piece (27-06-203) you will find many arguing cogently against it on the grounds of weaknesses in core repertory, and, a view I share, micro-managing music until the life is sucked out of it. When I’ve travelled to Berlin in recent years, it’s been to hear Haitink with the BPO (Bruckner 8th!) or Barenboim and his great Staatskapelle. Morrison cites insider knowledge, and why should he not have, since he has written a fine book on the LSO? However, I spoke to an insider on Thursday, and I was led to believe that Rattle is not a done deal, although talks are ‘ongoing’. I suggested that the LSO should follow the LPO’s lead when they took a risk with Jurowski. If I understood it properly, the discreet response suggested that while the LSO was in a sound financial position, the LPO had the regular Glyndebourne slot to buttress its finances. Meaning, I suppose, that the LSO has a ‘prestige’ problem, hankers for knock-out appointments and can afford them. But do we really need the BPO’s ex? I warned from the outset that the LSO would simply be another notch on Gergiev’s bedpost, and so it has proved to be. What does Rattle offer? For purely musical reasons I am not inclined to welcome Rattle, but we might need to remind ourselves of his apocalyptic and patronizing anti-British rant in the Times of March 1st 2010: “If I were not British,” says Britain’s most celebrated conductor, “I would say that this old country of ours is going through a kind of endgame.” My riposte cited four days of music from February 17th during which I heard LPO/Jurowski in exhilerating Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, Perahia’s sublime Bach, Beethoven and Chopin, BBCSO/Bĕlohlávek’s benchmark Janáček and Martinů and LPO/Jurowski in magnificent Janáček and Suk. I was also awaiting ENO’s marvellous ‘Satyagraha’ revival and Mackerras’s definitive ROH ‘Vixen’. Rattle’s bragging about outreach did not impress either, since numerous organisations do it here without so much noise. It would seem that Sir Simon did not follow up my suggestion of returning his knighthood and taking on German nationality, and now he wants to come home. Well, not in my back yard, thanks. If the LSO cannot see just how progressive and exciting Jurowski’s appointment has been for musical life in the capital – programming is beyond anything that the LSO could envisage – then they will be perpetually stuck in a self-defining rut with a big-name Principal and prestigious one-offs. If LSO members had witnessed Ticciati’s extraordinary Bruckner 4th at this year’s Snape Proms, they would be heading the stampede to nab him. But they won’t!

Sincere thanks, too, for your

Sincere thanks, too, for your eloquent reasoning, Hedgehog - not just because it's flattering and of course I agree with every point. I'm only sorry you're stuck with the annoying public comment facility whuch doesn't cater for paragraph breaks. I urge readers not to be put off by that and to pay it careful attention.

I didn't know that patronizing remark from Rattle and I, too, would hold up Jurowski as a shining beacon of how to animate an orchestra and bring fresh audience blood into the bargain. Musical times have never been more exciting in London, though the LSO with Gergiev - despite some interesting rep choices - is not often part of that.

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