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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 13 in C major K. 415 (387b) (1782-3) [32:44]
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor K. 466 (1785) [35:57]
Bonus: “Bach spiele ich mit siebzig” [19:52]
Camerata Salzburg/Mitsuko Uchida (piano, conductor)
rec. Salzburg, Mozarteum, 2-4 March 2001. DDD
DVD: Region 1 only
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00440 073 4129 [72:10]

 

A brightly-lit Mozarteum in Salzburg, and more than a minute’s static build up - even the audience is frozen - leave you wondering if your DVD player has gone on the blink. With the acoustic established and our ears attuned, the musicians finally make a showing and tune up. We are give a flavour of what it must feel like to be on stage with the expectant ears and eyes of the public on your every move.

Uchida’s conducting is not the most immediately attractive to watch, but it is borne out of deep conviction and knowledge of the inner workings of every note of the score. She knows that the only way to get dynamic contrast with what is little more than a chamber orchestra is to ensure that the quiet passages are really quiet. So at the beginning you see her constantly exhorting the musicians to hush, one finger before pursed lips.

I don’t wish to criticise the orchestral musicians. They are obviously an intelligent, cultured and talented bunch, but you can’t help noticing how concentrated they are on their desks. Very few glances go in the direction of the pianist/conductor. While I suspect there is something going on between the principal violin and the flautist, if anything the players seem to be grimly hanging on to the movements of the leader’s violin rather than Mitsuko’s sometimes idiosyncratic gestures. They also seem to be enjoying some kind of in-joke, which might be the result of some director’s encouragement to look joyful and interact with each other. However this sometimes ends up looking as if they are being amused by something at Uchida’s expense.

All this said, these are intense and well executed performances using modern instruments, with only the timpanist’s hard sticks as a nod toward an ‘authentic’ period sound. I have long admired Uchida’s playing, and it is a wonderful discovery to see her at work from within the orchestra. The piano is placed centrally, looking incongruously new and modern in the classical setting of the Mozarteum. With the soloist’s back to the audience the obvious angles are from virtually inside the lidless solo instrument, and from a number of camera angles including the balcony, stage sides and from behind the musicians. The only camera regularly visible on stage is neatly covered in a black cloth, and only slightly less animated than the orchestral musicians with which it keeps company. This is the one focused on Uchida’s face and records her incredibly swift and subtle pedalling, visible as the dampers twitch in unison. Uchida’s facial expressions are infinitely fascinating, and only occasionally upstaged by that of the leader, who sneaks a wink at the flautist now and then.

The lighter K415 is given an expressive and elegant performance, but it is the darker K466 which makes this DVD special. From the sheer drama of the opening one almost expects singers in full costume to appear from the wings. It feels like an overture, but the singer is of course the piano, whose language is locked into the intellect as much as to the emotions. Uchida’s inspired control is self evident, but the blood, bones and sheer human effort of Mozart’s creation seems to be born afresh with Uchida. It’s not hard work to listen, but it is incredibly involving to watch. The apparent simplicity of the slow movement’s notes are given every ounce of expressive weight, the contrasts of joy and despair at every moment being laid out as painfully or playfully as a scene acted by the great Peter O’Toole.

The bonus track ‘I’ll play Bach when I’m seventy’ is a fascinating little talk in which Uchida compares the worlds of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven in a way which puts their music into realistic context and perspective. The unfortunate Haydn is overshadowed by both of the other two names, but having as great strengths his constant experimentation with form and his longevity, which lead to his having one foot in both musical worlds. Uchida talks in fluent and articulate German - with accurately translated English subtitles - about her fascination with the earlier atonal piano music of Schőnberg, and her attitude to the need for an openness to new music. There are one or two short and fuzzily transferred musical illustrations from a variety of filmed performances. For such a short piece (under 20 minutes) Uchida packs in a great deal about herself, her feelings about the differences between solo and concerto performance, and about many of the composers who have been so important to her. The conclusion is that it took her many years to ‘understand’ Mozart and become prepared to play all of his sonatas in public. So it would appear she will have to become a grand old dame before she takes her Bach 48 Preludes and Fugues to the concert platform.

Fans of Mitsuko and Mozart need have no hesitation in adding this DVD to their collection. It is a well produced recording in 5.1 DTS Surround Sound and a beautifully played concert, with the benefit to home watchers of having a far better view of the soloist than those who paid to attend.

Dominy Clements

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