This is the fourth issue in Mitsuko Uchida’s traversal for Decca of Mozart’s Piano Concertos as soloist and director of the Cleveland Orchestra. It evinces all the same virtues as its predecessors: precision, fleetness and evenness of fingerwork, subtlety of expression and dynamics, and warm sound with hardly any audience noise, these recordings being compiled from live performances. As with the previous recordings, especially that of K488 and K491, she permits an element of doubt and melancholy to pervade the ostensible insouciance of the two works here.
These are restrained, classical accounts, marginally slower than those she recorded in 1988 as part of the complete set with Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra. Indeed, one might expect a tad more introspection and profundity to inform her interpretation over a quarter of a century later, although in terms of timings the differences are not great: half a minute more in the first movements and a minute or so added to the slower, middle movements. The Andante of K456 is two minutes slower than some other interpreters such as Derek Han on his very recommendable budget set on “Brilliant” label but Uchida then ups the pace to produce a scintillating finale.
Despite the sustained elegance of her playing, it never lacks gravitas and the sparkling filigree of her cadenza never descends into mere, showy note-spinning; brilliance and sentiment are artfully balanced. Both the mood and melody of the Andante are reminiscent of the minor pathos of Barbarina’s aria “L’ho perduta, me meschina” and is not meant to ascend any tragic heights, so Uchida does not over-emphasise the melancholy.
Whether Mozart really intended there to be trumpets and timpani in the score of K459 or his mentioning of them in the catalogue of his works was, as the notes here suggest, just a minor case of absent-mindedness, clearly the music demands the kind of exuberance some find too under-stated in Uchida’s interpretations. Personally, I find that she achieves joyfulness without sacrificing due acknowledgement of the shadows beneath.
The slow movement – an unprecedented Allegretto rather than an Andante – is poised and flowing. The Allegro vivace finale an explosion of joy which displays both Mozart’s contrapuntal mastery and his emotional range, permitting Uchida, too, to demonstrate how her technical brilliance is seamlessly allied to profundity of feeling; her seven-second trill at 2’15” is a wonder in itself.
Her rapport with the Cleveland Orchestra – clearly a class Mozart outfit despite its relative size - seems complete and the recorded sound in the Severance Hall continues to be entirely satisfying. An occasional faint aural hint of Dame Mitsuko singing along in the most tuneful passages is not distracting and co-ordination between pianist and band seems exemplary.
This series proceeds apace and every new release testifies further to Uchida’s art and Mozart’s genius.
Masterwork Index: Concertos 18 & 19