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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K459 (1784) [28:31]
Piano Concerto No. 18 in B flat major, K456 (1784) [32:09]
Cleveland Orchestra/Mitsuko Uchida (piano and director)
rec. live, 1-5 April 2014, Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
DECCA 478 6763 [60:48]

Japanese born, London resident, pianist Mitsuko Uchida plays and directs in two of Mozartís piano concertos. Uchida is widely recognised as a Mozart specialist and her now classic set of the Piano Sonatas, recorded in 1983/87 in London, has been a constant and eminently satisfying companion since its first release on Philips. Additionally I have greatly enjoyed her Mozart Piano Concertos recorded in 1985/90 with the English Chamber Orchestra under Jeffrey Tate and reissued in 2006 on Philips.
 
Now after more than twenty years it is pleasing to see Uchida recording in Severance Hall a new live series directing The Cleveland Orchestra from the keyboard. I have been thrilled with the first three releases: First Nos 23 and 24, recorded in 2008 on Decca 4781524 which won a 2011 Grammy award. Second the release of Nos. 20 and 27 recorded in 2010 on Decca 4782596 and the third - Nos. 9 and 21 - recorded in 2012 on Decca 4783539.

The year 1784 was incredibly productive for Mozart. He composed no fewer than six piano concertos for his popular Vienna subscription concerts including the two concertos recorded here. First Uchida plays No. 19, a highly popular work probably written for Mozartís own use. A positive quality grips Uchidaís interpretation of this good humoured score from first to last. She creates an idyllic radiance in the Allegretto with an exquisitely fresh feel to the sparkling passagework.

Next we hear No. 18, a work thought to have been written for Maria Theresia von Paradis, a blind pianist who toured European capitals. With spellbinding grace Uchida demonstrates clear and precise articulation with her fingers dancing balletically across the keys. A highlight is the ravishing Andante, a theme and set of variations with coda, revealing an engaging interplay with the orchestra.

Directed by Uchida it is hard to find fault with The Cleveland Orchestra such a responsive and warm-hearted partner.

Grumbles, well I have only a couple of minor ones. Even though I cherish Uchidaís ultra-stylish approach and light textures, at times, part of me wants to hear the results of a little additional exuberance and extra weight especially in the outer movements. Very occasionally these interpretations feel a touch too studied at the expense of spontaneity. Recorded at a series of live concerts the Decca engineers have provided vividly clear sound and an agreeable balance between piano and orchestra. There is no intrusive audience noise and the applause has been taken out.

There are several excellent, mainly digital sets, of the Mozart piano concertos that should satisfy most tastes; unless looking for period-instrument performances. Further to the Uchida/Tate set I also admire those from Murray Perahia directing the ECO from the keyboard recorded 1975/88 and reissued in 2012 on Sony and from Daniel Barenboim directing from the keyboard the Berliner Philharmoniker, recorded 1986/98 and re-issued in 2005 on Warner Classics. One of the finest and most collectable of the more recent single Mozart releases is from Maria Jo„o Pires playing the Piano Concertos Nos 20 and 27 with the Orchestra Mozart under Claudio Abbado. These were recorded in 2011 on Deutsche Grammophon. Uchida and her close contemporary Maria Jo„o Pires, both artists in their prime, are the most consistently exceptional Mozart performers on the world stage today.

Once again the classy Uchida demonstrates remarkable form on this latest Decca release.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Ralph Moore

Masterwork Index: Concertos 18 & 19