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S & H Recital Review

Schoenberg, Schubert, Schumann Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Royal Festival Hall, Friday March 14th, 2003 (CC)


Mitsuko Uchida writes that she developed this programme from the idea of the 'fantasy'. It was certainly a concept that inspired her to scale great heights, for this was a recital which surely must rank among the highlights of the 2002/3 season.

She began with Arnold Schoenberg's 'Drei Klavierstucke', Op. 11 (Uchida's 'favourite Schoenberg', apparently). Her interpretation was characterised by a highly developed sense of the beautiful and a complete command of voice-leading. The first piece, 'Massig', was delicate and fragile and, at times, phantasmagorical. The only problem was that the harmonics (created by depressing a chord silently in the right hand and activating the harmonics by sforzati in the left) could hardly be expected to carry in the vast spaces of the RFH auditorium: they were only just audible in the front stalls. The fairly fast speed of the 'Sehr langsam' did not detract from the mysterious core of the music, creating instead an ominous inevitability. Of the final movement, 'Bewegte', the opening (written on three staves) was clearly delineated but still carried its full emotional, powerful weight. It is difficult to imagine a more impressive opening to a recital.

Uchida carried the concentration of the Schoenberg over to Schubert's G major Sonata, D894. Her Philips recordings of this repertoire have set new standards in latter-day Schubert interpretation, and heard live she is if anything even more impressive. The enormous first movement of D894 (marked 'Molto moderato e cantabile') was launched by a tremendous sense of peace, coupled with this remarkable concentration, which extended throughout the movement. Uchida's hyper-sensitivity to long-range harmonic thought brought with it a monumental quality. Despite the tender cajoling of the Andante and the attractive 'Landler' Trio of the third movement, it was the finale which oozed delight, coming across as wonderfully cheeky and perky.

Schumann's 'Fantasie' is a problematic work, both technically and structurally, not that one could guess it here: Uchida's technique is rock-solid and seemingly knows no obstacles. The semiquaver left hand ushered in an outpouring of emotion, the right hand teasing out the themes. Perhaps most surprising were some organ-like sonorities, evoked later. The March was more hyper than noble: this was Schumann's troubled mind laid bare in the quirkiest of fashions, and the perfect foil for the song-like, magical finale.

There is no doubt in this reviewer's mind that Uchida is one of the most remarkable of living pianists.

Colin Clarke



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