Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488
Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
Recorded 4-5 December 2008 in Severance Hall, Cleveland
Reviewed by: Graham Rogers
Reviewed: November 2009
CD No: DECCA 478 1524
Duration: 60 minutes
There is no shortage of outstanding recordings of this well-matched pair of two of Mozart’s greatest and most popular concertos – the darkly brooding C minor and the warmly radiant A major – but new thoughts as illuminating as those offered here by Mitsuko Uchida will always be welcome. More than two decades on from her complete Mozart concerto cycle for Philips with the English Chamber Orchestra and Jeffrey Tate, Uchida has returned for a fresh look at these two works, this time live and accompanied by the Cleveland Orchestra, which she directs herself from the keyboard.
Anyone expecting the vibrancy of period-instrument performances, or the dynamism of such master-Mozarteans as Alfred Brendel or Christian Zacharias, will be disappointed. These are intensely thoughtful and refined accounts that reward dedicated listening. Unlike Daniel Barenboim, who tends to romanticise Mozart (albeit usually to unanswerably wonderful effect), Uchida is fastidiously careful never to stray outside the boundaries of classical restraint. But whereas the likes of Brendel make such an approach feel fluid and natural, the sense here is often that Uchida’s natural inclinations are towards the romantic.
This is certainly not to say that Uchida’s playing doesn’t have integrity, or is not absolutely compelling; it is also frequently sublime. The pianist’s first entry in the C minor Concerto (placed first on the disc) is exquisite: a supremely poised oasis of absolute calm, yet bristling with tension that foreshadows the drama to come. The preceding orchestral introduction is not as overtly fiery as some versions, but its gentle drive is firm and inexorable. Although the tempo here and in the finale is measured, the voltage in both is powerfully high. Uchida’s take on the Larghetto is contemplative rather than effortlessly simple, reflecting the vast depth beneath Mozart’s uncomplicated surface; her subtle ornamentation in repeated passages is nicely stylish (as is her own cadenza in first- movement cadenza).
The Cleveland Orchestra musicians have Mozart in their blood, and Uchida’s special “long-standing relationship” with them is plainly evident. Tate’s ECO often lacked incisiveness and urgency – never faults here. The Cleveland woodwinds are especially vivid, making the contrapuntal complexities in the turbulent first-movement development crystal-clear. The wind-led major-key episodes in the Larghetto and finale are melancholic rather than uplifting, but this in keeping with the mood of the work as a whole and comes off well (less effective – and unnecessary – is the paring down of the strings to solo string quartet here).
The glorious sunshine of the A major’s Concerto first movement is tempered with autumnal clouds, reflective rather than carefree. The Adagio, Mozart at his most poignant, penetrates straight to the soul with clean textures and eloquent directness. The joyous finale may lack a sense of spontaneity, but Uchida’s light and nimble touch ensures that its radiance shines brightly and with a winning optimism. This release is essential listening for devotees of these wonderful, multi-faceted works.