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Mozart: Fantasy in C minor K 475, Sonata in C minor K 457, Adagio in B minor K 540, Sonata in F K533/K494, Sonata in D K 576: Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Barbican Hall, London, 5.4.2006 (GD)



Uchida’s recital opened very impressively with a measured and thoughtful reading of the great Fantasy in C minor (K 475). Like the other 'late' Mozart piano works in this excellently programmed recital the C minor Fantasy is a paradigm of dramatic contrast, with the most subtly ordered tonal shifts, dynamic inflections, harmonic invention and rich modulation. After the C minor/C sharp minor ascending cadence, which constitutes the works dramatic coda, Uchida launched (attacca style) directly into the C minor Sonata (K 457). This is exactly as it should be, the Fantasy and Sonata being of a piece, inextricably linked both thematically and tonally.

The incredible tonal shifts from B minor to D major, linked to the wonderful Andantino in B flat, are all developed in the Sonata whose agitated cadences and anguished chromaticisms were given their full weight by Uchida. The Adagio of K 457 is not really an adagio in the 19th century sense; it is really an elaborated rondo initially in E flat. I was fascinated by the way in which Uchida projected the full range of Mozart's meticulously marked dynamic structures without ever sounding contrived. This 'adagio' is an object lesson in tonal contrast (also stylistic contrast... at times it sounds almost like a transfigured serenade) but it never sounded in any way didactic. Uchida reminded us that the young Beethoven of the 'Pathetique' Sonata was profoundly influenced by this score. The Sonata's sonata-rondo finale, with its unique blend of oscillating chromatic cadences, startling silences (as in the accompanying Fantasy) and amazingly (more relaxed) major key contrasts were all integrated into the whole work by Uchida.

The Adagio in B minor is probably the nearest thing Mozart ever came to writing a true adagio, although the piece’s staggering diversity of form and content (like the previous Fantasy a paradigm of harmonic/tonal invention and contrast) distinguishes it from later adagio forms. B minor (as with Beethoven) was a key Mozart rarely deployed, and here again Uchida made us fully aware of the tonal vicissitudes and modulations offered by that key. Uchida played the Adagio at a most measured pace making the piece sound more haunting than merely slow. The final shift to a major key cadence in the coda from B minor is one of the most magical innovations in all Mozart as Uchida recognized in her ever-observant articulation.

The wonderful Sonata in F (K 533) with its revised Rondo Allegreto (494) is still a relatively neglected work in the Mozart canon. Mozart, in the late 1780's was making a concerted study of the contrapuntal techniques of earlier composers, especially J S Bach (from Baron von Sweiten's library). And this sonata is charged with the most elaborate contrapuntal invention... at times Mozart's protean polyphonic elaborations in this work pre-figure the later 'Jupiter' Symphony. Again, Uchida proved herself to be a most original interpreter of Mozart. Whereas a pianist like Brendel plays this piece in a more formalistic 'classical' manner, Uchida imbues the piece with far more fantasy and colour. Although colour is not a characteristic one immediately associates with Mozart (especially in a more recherche piece like this sonata) Uchida exposed a whole dimension in Mozart's writing usually underplayed. I am thinking of the opening Allegro’s second subject with its sequences of cascading triplets, also the hauntingly beautiful F minor episode in the final Rondo allegretto       leading to the fantastically embroidered final cadenza of that movement.  Needless to say, the intense B flat Andante was delivered by Uchida in a way fully resonant with Mozart's extended counterpoint where themes are blended in, re-worked, inverted and flung into often remote tonal registers.

Mozart’s last piano sonata (K 576) in D returns to a more 'semplice' style, one also associated with the D major String Quintet (K 593), and the famous Clarinet Concerto (K 622). But this 'semplice' characteristic is deceptive. Artur Schnabel, who often played this and other Mozart sonatas, stated that they are the most difficult to play, not only technically, but in re-creating that strange blend of joyous playfulness underscored by something (almost imperceptible) far more disturbing. This is unique to Mozart's later style and was fully realized in Uchida's performance. From the oscillating 'hunting' cadences of the opening Allegro, to the florid A major sequences, and elegantly serious F sharp minor middle section of the Adagio, to the Papageno sounding concluding Allegretto, Uchida traversed the whole deceptively complex range of this work in a way I am sure Schnabel would have appreciated.  To conclude the work, Uchida perfectly delineated the mock-dramatic and arresting de-crescendo, pp coda in a way I have never experienced before, even from Uchida's own recording. Overall, this was a Mozart  event which will stay in my memory for years to come.  A unique and rare experience.



Geoff Diggines






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