Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 17 May, 2014
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
When it was recently announced that Mariss Jansons was cancelling upcoming Berlin concerts due to surgery, one was left to wonder whether he would be able to conduct the three New York performances of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Not only did he appear, he gave a performance of such focused energy in the Shostakovich that it was hard to believe that he has been dealing with cardiac problems for several years now.
This work is in Jansons’s blood and soul, and there was an immediacy of communication with the orchestra that translated into a wide palette of color and character. The full-bodied opening theme was but a harbinger of things to come: strong, visceral playing, which by the finale reached an astounding level of intensity and engagement. Not one string player’s back was touching a chair and the musicians played as if their lives depended on it. In the second-movement Allegretto the low strings at the beginning resounded with an unprecedented depth of sound, the music resonating with black humor, carried perfectly into the trio by concertmaster Radoslaw Szulc’s mocking solo.
But Jansons also brought out the somber aspect of the score with a dark first movement – tension and empty bluster as well as beautiful string sonorities supporting the poignant flute solo. In the third-movement Largo, the build-up from the haunting oboe, clarinet and flute contribution to the big climax was breathtaking, as was, in a different way, the collapse into nothingness at the close. The BRSO can dazzle not only with its virtuosity, but also with the beauty of its sound in the most delicate passages – and with sheer joy in playing. This was especially evident in the encore – a nose thumb at Stalin, so to speak – an ‘Entr’acte’ from Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the opera for which the composer had to atone with the Fifth Symphony.
The versatility of the orchestra had already been displayed in the opening work, in which the accompaniment to Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto was in perfect alignment with Mitsuko Uchida’s playing. Jansons supported her every thought, even when she veered from a lively and hearty Beethovenian style into Chopinesque daintiness every time a lyrical theme came along. This proclivity was most noticeable and disturbing in the first movement when the second theme was consistently introduced by contrived pauses, rendered in much slower tempo and covered by an almost impressionistic haze. In the Andante, her elegiac approach was more appropriate for the juxtaposition of orchestra and soloist, and the finale came off best of all – sprightly and energetic, except for another brief shift in style during the cadenza. Her encore was the ‘Sarabande’ from J. S. Bach’s G major French Suite (BWV 816), delicately presented.