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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat major, K271 Jeunehomme (1776) [33:03]
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467 (1785) [29:16]
The Cleveland Orchestra/Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
rec. live, Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, 5-7 April 2012
DECCA CLASSICS 478 3539 [62:31]


I am a long-time admirer of Mitsuko Uchida’s playing especially her Mozart. Uchida’s set of the Piano Sonatas, recorded in London in 1983/87, has been a constant and comforting companion since its release on Philips 468 3562. I have also greatly enjoyed her set of the Mozart Piano Concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra under Jeffrey Tate: an 8CD box set from 2006 on Philips 475 7306.
 
There are many excellent sets of the Mozart Piano Concertos and these will satisfy the majority of tastes. The ones I have played the most are those from Murray Perahia directing the ECO from the keyboard on Sony SX12K46441 and Daniel Barenboim also as soloist directing the Berliner Philharmoniker on Warner Classics 2564619192.
 
After some twenty years it is pleasing to see that Mitsuko Uchida is recording live a new selection of the Mozart concertos. I have been thrilled with the first two releases: Firstly the Piano Concertos 23 and 24, recorded in 2008 on Decca 4781524 which won a Grammy award in 2011 for The Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (with Orchestra). Second is the release of the Concertos 20 and 27 recorded in 2010 on Decca 478 2596. Earlier this year she played a series of three concerts at the Severance Hall in Cleveland, Ohio leading the Cleveland Orchestra from the piano in Concertos 9 and 21. 
The Piano Concerto No. 9 is known as the Jeunehomme after a French woman pianist Mlle Jeunehomme who may or may not have existed. The latest thinking is that the concerto was actually written for a pianist named Victoire Jenamy who in 1776 Vienna had commissioned the work. The attractive music of the opening Allegro is based around two motifs one for the soloist and one for the orchestra. Involved virtually right from the start of the Allegro, the delicacy and satisfying lucidity of Uchida’s playing is palpable. In the Andantino the piano weeps its way through sorrowful writing yet still manages to radiate a sense of hope. There is such surety and fluidity in the playing that it feels completely natural. Characterful writing in the enjoyable Rondo, Finale is strongly reminiscent of a Mozartean comic opera. It’s given here with buoyant vivacity. With the exception of the slow and reflective Minuet the music becomes progressively elaborate remaining compellingly vibrant. The Cleveland Orchestra is a model of refinement throughout.

Completed in 1785 the Piano Concerto No. 21 is sometimes known as Elvira Madigan after the Andante was featured in the 1967 Swedish film of the same name directed by Bo Widerberg. The lengthy opening Allegro maestoso is majestic and highly melodic with Uchida displaying a wonderful lightness of touch and fluidity. Probably Mozart’s most enduringly celebrated slow movement, the exceedingly memorable and tender Andante is played with affecting delicacy. In the Rondo, Finale Uchida gives a sparkling and dashing performance with an abundance of disarming ebullience. I was struck by Uchida’s exquisite and empathetic control yet she still manages to radiate an evincible sense of spontaneity. The stunning orchestral playing is a characteristic of this impeccable performance.
 
Recorded live at a series of three live concerts at the Severance Hall, Cleveland, Uchida playing a new Hamburg Steinway has been superbly recorded by the Decca engineers with admirable balance and sound. There is no intrusive audience sound and any applause has been taken out. At times some slight noise from the soloist can be heard but nothing problematic. Uchida, who was born to play Mozart, is in exemplary form from start to finish here reaching empyreal heights.
 
Michael Cookson 

See also review by Ralph Moore

Masterwork Index: Concerto 9 ~~ Concerto 21