Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91) Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 (1785) [33:27]
Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595 (1791) [32:19]
Mitsuko Uchida (piano and director)
rec. 15, 17, 18 April 2010, Severance Hall, Cleveland
DECCA 4782596 [65:46]
Relatively recently Dame Mitsuko Uchida has joined the endless
succession of soloists who now direct from the keyboard - or,
in some cases, violin or cello. She is also, on the evidence
of this CD, one of the most outstandingly successful. I am sure
the Cleveland Orchestra would play superlatively well even if
a chimpanzee were conducting them, but interpreting great music
in a way that radiates meaning and character is quite another
matter. It has to be said that many of those in the soloist-turned-conductor
ranks are at best adequate and, I suspect, motivated by the
prospect of larger fees. Ms. Uchida - she prefers not to use
her title publicly - not only achieves complete unity with the
Cleveland players, but also imbues the music with quiet but
powerful personality. These performances are poised and in no
way ostentatious. There is just enough restraint at the opening
of the D minor, and certainly no lack of tension – surely the
most vital element. These are definitely performances to live
with, free from exaggeration or interpretative quirks and more
deeply rewarding on each listening. It has been said that Ms.
Uchida errs on the side of Beethoven, but I really do not see
why this should be considered a fault. She is by no means the
first pianist to show how close those two composers are at times.
Each of these concertos has a central movement of Romanza character.
The D minor is actually so labelled, while that in the B flat
is not, but it surely belongs in this family. Ms. Uchida's performance
of the D minor slow movement is a model of unaffected simplicity,
the stormy middle section powerful without being hectic; neither
is the following rondo hectic. The same genuine simplicity works
just as marvellously in the Larghetto of the B flat Concerto.
Here the tempo is just a little con moto, whereas many pianists
take a slightly slower speed which can lead to a feeling of
indulgence. In both movements Ms. Uchida ornaments the melodic
line in the most convincing way I have ever heard – unfussy
and unselfconscious. Tempos for the outer movements are eminently
sensible, by which I mean wise. Judicious is often used as a
euphemism for dull, but here it is meant in the best sense of
the word. The opening movement of K595 may at first seem steady,
but Ms. Uchida's expressive moulding of the melodic lines increases
the pathos of this music, underlining its bleaker aspect. If
I may put on a soapbox manner, I would say that tempo in itself
is usually not critically important. What really matters is
what you do - how you phrase, how you sustain - within the chosen
tempo. Only the greatest artists can take a slightly risky tempo,
a little slower or faster than usual, and convince you of its
Perhaps the coda to the rondo of K. 466 is a bit unsmiling,
a little strait-laced, but this is the smallest of points. Ms.
Uchida plays Beethoven's cadenzas in the D minor and Mozart's
own in the B flat. This is an outstanding CD by one of the greatest
Mozart players of our time, beautifully recorded.
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