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Mozart and Dvořák Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Mitsuko Uchida (piano/director); Alexander Janiczek (violin/director), RFH, Wednesday, October 13th, 2004 (CC)


Mitsuko Uchida is engaged in a project to direct all the Mozart piano concertos with the Cleveland Orchestra. Seeing and hearing her in the role of director (here with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe) is a new experience for this reviewer, though … and what a joy it was.


The programme book-ended Dvořák’s Czech Suite with two Mozart concertos, Nos. 6 and 25. There was an extra item, though, unannounced and to a captive audience. Michael Lynch, Chief Executive of the SBC, painfully over-amplified, begged for money for renovation. Unexpected, it disrupted the sweet air of anticipation magnificently, as well as knocking a few high frequencies off my hearing. It was, in effect, aggressive begging in a suit.


Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat, K238 is of course only the second actually by Mozart (the first four are arrangements). It was a privilege to hear it in such expert hands. Uchida directed the orchestral exposition floridly and expressively (standing). When it came to the piano’s entrance, as so often when the soloist directs, it took a while for her to find the right balance – her left hand seemed too loud. Yet straight away an intimate sense of dialogue existed between piano and chamber orchestra. Uchida’s gestures were graceful and, most importantly, communicative. Nothing was superfluous. She brought out the dramatic in this early work as well its more the gentle flip side. The cadenza was in fact hyper-sensitive, yet still managed to contain elements of the expected display.


The COE seemed not only on her wavelength, but determined to give their very best. The surprisingly sonorous violins of the Andante un poco adagio were actually acting as a foil for the gentle, proto-Elvira Madigan woodwind. Uchida herself has always excelled in Mozart concerto slow movements, and indeed here she was absolutely hypnotic. Perhaps the finale could have exuded more fun, though. Uchida elected instead to embark on a surprisingly explosive course that included that crystalline articulation so typical of this pianist. The cadenza was a thing of wonder, with real glitter about it. How wonderful to hear an early Mozart concerto accorded such deep respect from its interpreters.


The Czech Suite, Op. 39/B93 in D of Antonín Dvořák dates from 1879. It would perhaps have been interesting to see Uchida try to conduct it (when Maurizio Pollini toured with the English Chamber Orchestra – early 1980s, I think – he put Mozart’s 34th symphony in between the 14th and 17th piano concertos and conducted the symphony himself). As it was, it was directed from the violin by Alexander Janiczek (himself part-Czech). This was a lovely performance, characterised by an easy-going countenance. The opening movement (of five), a Pastorale, was nearly a joy (only some perhaps inevitable ragged ensemble detracted). Particularly attractive was the warm, Central-European sound of the oboe.


This is a charming work, and it was clear the members of the COE were thoroughly enjoying themselves (a particularly mobile, and sonically expressive, first clarinettist seemed to be having a ball). If there could have been more charm to contrast with the robust fortes in the Polka and an extra tad of freshness to the Sousedská (a type of Minuet), the perky, nicely sprung Furiant left a decidedly warm feeling. Life-enhancing.


Mozart’s 25th Concerto is perhaps his most overtly celebrational (cast in that composer’s favourite key for that mood, also – C major). But there are undercurrents present, too, and Uchida ensured that minor-key colourings were given fullest due. They were even more effective because Uchida resisted the temptation to slow down for them, the shading coming internally instead. As far as her playing goes, there was the impression that Uchida was regularly marking the first beat of the bar more than she would if there was a conductor to help her; and the ‘big’ piano chords lost some of their power simply because of the positioning of the piano and the loss of the lid (to direct the sound towards the audience). The cadenza here was not as accurate as one has come to expect from this pianist.


The Andante was pure bliss, however, whether one considers the wind solos or the ‘Ur-Uchida-esque’ playing. The finale smiled contentedly, full of brilliant fingerwork (and how Uchida must have enjoyed teasing the audience with some of her phrasing!) Here there was a superb sense of rightness about it all, making the exuberant close seem entirely fitting.


Colin Clarke


Uchida repeats the concertos in Severance Hall on Thursday 28th October with the Cleveland Orchestra, sandwiching this time Kirchner’s ‘Music for 12’. Please see Opus 1 Classical for full concert details.

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