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Mozart and Schoenberg: Mitsuko Uchida (piano/director), Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Alexander Janiczek (director, Schoenberg), Barbican Hall, 29.10.2005 (CC)



Mozartian elegance met a dour account of Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht at the Barbican on this particular Saturday Nacht. Strangely, the programme claimed it would all be over by 9.15 as well. Unlikely (where do they get their estimates from), but it did rather raise the question: what is time anyway? After all, half an hour can go by in a flash (both Mozarts) or it can seem more like a week (Schoenberg).

First up, K491 (or Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, if you prefer). Elegance was at its height. This was not a performance that wanted to dwell exclusively on the C minor-ish elements. There was more than a touch of the Wind Serenade about many of the woodwind contributions (something to recur in spades in the Larghetto). Yet underneath all this the essence of C minor – disquiet – remained constant. Uchida seemed to over-egg the opening of the slow movement. The blossoming of the orchestral response seemed more satisfying, though, and Uchida proved she can 'sing' a melody better than almost anyone else in front of the public today. The dark shadows of the finale contributed an intensity befitting this concerto. Uchida's directing is interesting – she less conducts, more moulds the music as if shaping the softest, most malleable clay. It is very beautiful to watch – and just as beautiful to hear the COE's responses.

The other concerto, that closed the concert, was the glorious A major, K488. The orchestra played gloriously, too, alive to every nuance, calm and confident. Uchida was a model of exquisite balance, articulating every single note to perfection. Of the orchestral soloists, a special mention should go to the clarinettist, Roman Guyat. A hypnotic Adagio (an undecorated solo line towards the end perfectly in keeping with the restraint of the interpretation) led to a finale full of life. Uchida made usually tricky ornaments sound unutterably natural. If she did not quite 'get' the simplicity of the final pages, this was memorable nonetheless.

Talking of memorable (though not for the same reason) time for an appraisal of the sandwich filling. Around a year ago, the same forces gave a similar programme over the river at the RFH. Then it was Dvorak's Czech Suite as the middle work; here, Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht provided the stuffing. And stuffed it was too, good and proper. A depleted double-bass section hardly contributed to massive depth of sound. What part-delineation there was, was just acceptable, but everything was rather anonymous. Cellos and basses really lacked tonal heft when it mattered, and even great glowing chords emerged as if through a gauze. Solo contributions from the leader were characterized by a harsh tone and a habit of pitch-slithering. The best part of the performance was the solo violist, Thomas Selditz. But Transfigured Night? Cloudy Night, more like.



Colin Clarke



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)