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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor K491 [32:56]
Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major K488 [26:43]
Mitsuko Uchida (piano and director)
Cleveland Orchestra
rec. live, Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio, 4-5 December 2008
DECCA 478 1524 [59:52]
Experience Classicsonline

I first found myself wondering whether this disc was not just that bit too understated and subtle, but subsequent listenings have left me unsure. It is certainly not as light or playful as her earlier Philips versions with Jeffrey Tate. The emphasis here in both concertos is often more upon sombre introspection. Uchida has something profound and even slightly disturbing to say about this music, based on long acquaintance and reflection. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that she has (unbelievably) now entered her seventh decade of life. Speeds are measured and momentary, deliberate hesitations in the series of light fifth interval leaps following the entry of the piano in the opening of K491 underline the kind of metaphysical doubt pervading her interpretation. Although the "opera buffa" style conclusion to K488 is sprightly and Uchida plays with all her customary elegance and charm, and although the piano sings under her delicate touch, an inescapable melancholy colours her every utterance. This is another way to play Mozart; if you require more insouciance and sparkle, look elsewhere, perhaps to Perahia, or even the excellent "Brilliant" bargain set of complete concertos played by Derek Han.

These two concertos are often thought of as a good contrasting pair, ideal for a live concert programme - such as that from which this recording is taken - but Uchida suggests that these characterisations are superficial and in particular undermine the supposed geniality of K488, reminding us that they were composed within a few weeks of each other in March 1786, while Mozart was simultaneously working on "The Marriage of Figaro". The sublime Adagio of K488 is almost unbearable in its poignancy and recalls the emotional world of "Porgi amor" and "Dove sono"; similarly the "Larghetto" of K491, while offering more consolation, is always close to tears, especially in Uchida's conception. She both plays and directs from the keyboard, securing beautiful work from a reduced Cleveland Orchestra, especially in the woodwind; allow for a little blooper from the clarinets at 0:30, track 2. You would barely know that this recording was taken from two live performances; audience intrusion is absolutely minimal and the sound unimpeachable.

This is, then, in a sense, a more "Romantic" account of these masterpieces but any sense of indulgence is counteracted by the poised classicism of Uchida's touch and the restraint of the orchestral accompaniment, despite its coming from a fairly big band. I believe that I shall find myself returning to them more often than I at first thought.

Ralph Moore















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