Schubert/Uchida – Musical Moments

0 of 5 stars

Sonata in E flat, D568
Moments musicaux, D780

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

Recorded August 2001, Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: September 2002
CD No: PHILIPS 470 164-2

I had the highest expectation of this disc. I am a great fan of Uchida – her sensitivity and commitment is the touchstone of modern pianism. Her enthusiasm for her repertoire is infectious and her approach is scholarly in the best sense of the word. In January 2001, I heard Uchida perform the Moment musicaux – utterly inspirational interpretations, which gave the works a stature and maturity I had not previously appreciated, and treated them, as the programme notes for this disc suggest, as being a song-cycle without words. Uchida herself spoke of these pieces as being her artistic discovery of the year. In her hands they became, not a slight collection of winning melodies, but a powerfully unified masterpiece. I am therefore sad that I found this recording disappointing.

Not all of Uchida’s delicacy and sympathy for the music and for the composer can rescue D568 from being one of Schubert’s least felicitous efforts, far less concise or appealing than D537, played in the concert cited, or D575. A sonata that would be buried in a complete cycle does not fare well to be rescued from deserved neglect.

Unfortunately, although the recording was made only eight months after that evening, Uchida’s deep interest in Schubert seems to have made her gild the lily as far as the Moments musicaux are concerned. These performances are measured to the point of being mannered, controlled until they are contrived, illuminated until they are laborious. The second half of the set shows this more clearly – the outer parts of No.4 so detailed as to be timid, No.5 careful rather than emotional, and No.6 too static to be truly the serene resolution it was in live performance.

Of course, Uchida’s idiomatic yet personal view of Schubert still shines through, the gravitas of the opening, the tenderness of No.2 and of the trio of No.4 are very moving, and the Philips recording is characteristically natural, the sound full without being intrusive or forward. Overall, the impression is of a lost opportunity, of music whose greatest virtue is its spontaneity presented as something studied.

I do not think there is any serious doubt that Uchida’s Schubert cycle, now almost complete, is a worthy heir to Brendel’s and Kempff’s (Philips and DG respectively), and is becoming the current reference recording. There remains no pianist playing today whose Schubert I would rather listen to; however, if you are buying just a single disc to sample, it should not be this one.

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