Mitsuko Uchida and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra thrilled the sold-out audience at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 1 February. Uchida, directing from the keyboard, astonished with her “immaculate” performances of Mozart’s Piano Concertos No. 25 and 27. The concert also featured the MCO’s superlative performance of Schönberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 led by concertmaster José Maria Blumenschein.
Geoff Brown writes in his rapturous 5 star review in The Times: “Mitsuko Uchida, most modest and unaffected of audience favourites, joined them on stage, executed her deepest bow and stood by her piano ready to launch them upon Mozart. Arms outstretched before their first chords, she seemed about to give her colleagues a whopping hug. Given their staggering musicianship during this concert, I’d have happily hugged them myself.”
He continues, “Not that I’d pass over the star pianist, of course. She was brilliantly penetrating in the evening’s second Mozart concerto, the gently beguiling No 27 in B-flat. Her touch here was wonderfully light, shaded with the subtlest gradations in dynamics. She showed such poise too, though emotion and wit were always close by, especially in the seeming simplicities of the central larghetto, navigated so delicately as if realising its beauty could never last.”
Ivan Hewitt, in his 5 star review in The Telegraph, praises Uchida’s performances of the Mozart concertos saying that they “were filled with a lifetime’s wisdom.” He continues, “they were immaculate, understated and suffused with that special pearly beauty of sound that has always been her trademark. …the softness encourages you to listen deeper and notice small but telling things. One was the moment in the first movement of the 27th when the orchestra tiptoes towards strange harmonic regions, an effect Uchida magnified by pulling the tempo back by degrees, and leaving what felt like a huge hiatus (though in fact it was milliseconds) before her own solo. The result was that her own melody seemed to come from some lost and lonely region.
“Another telling moment was the very opening of the 25th, which launches with parade-ground grandeur. Some performers emphasise the big opening chords by making a pause between them, some play them in strict march tempo; Uchida and the orchestra somehow managed to do both at once.”
“When Uchida plays Mozart, one is tempted to reach for superlatives,” notes Alexander Hall (Bachtrack). “Uchida and her 37 players were on the same wavelength, responding with old-fashioned courtoisie to each intervention. …the jewel-box was open on display, the individual stones gleaming and glittering.”
On K595, he continues, “She perfectly judged the sombre mood of the opening Allegro, giving it the quality of a candle-lit soirée, the pauses pregnant with meaning just before the descent into the minor key, the luminescence of her playing a thing of wondrous beauty. But it was the Larghetto which stood out for me, phrased with utter simplicity, her ravishing tone set against the hushed strings, quite exquisite in realisation, allowing the spirit to float free of the clouds above. To recall Robert Browning’s words, this was a case of ‘God’s in his heaven, All’s right with the world’.”
Christopher Sallon from Seen and Heard International wrote, “There is little to say about [Uchida’s] supreme artistry that has not already been said. She played the two concerti with limpid clarity, perfect phrasing, and complete control. In an empathetic partnership with the MCO, she also demonstrated an unstinting generosity of spirit towards her fellow musicians…the result of her collaborative approach was music-making of immediate impact and great intimacy…The audience’s roaring approval was rewarded with a small piano encore – the second of Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces, Op.19 – a tiny morsel of compensation for those who hoped that this concert would never end.”
Photo: Justin Pumfrey/Decca