COE Uchida

Piano Concerto No.6 in B flat, K238
Piano Concerto No.25 in C, K503
Czech Suite, Op.39 *

Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Mitsuko Uchida (piano/director)
Alexander Janiczek (director) *

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 13 October, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

This superb concert began with a sparkling performance of Mozart’s B flat Piano Concerto, directed from the keyboard with great artistry by Mitsuko Uchida. The Allegro aperto was characterised by Uchida’s crisp articulation and delicately tapered phrasing, complemented by the COE’s beautifully clear enunciation of Mozart’s textures; which was in turn augmented by the antiphonal arrangement of the violins – a factor that also served to heighten the drama inherent in sections of both the Dvořák and the C major concerto to follow. The Andante I found surprisingly moving, such was Uchida’s subtle rhythmic shading and the orchestra’s sensitive accompaniment; the Rondo by contrast was quite intense, with Uchida injecting colour and excitement into this seemingly innocuous movement, thus preparing us for the forthcoming majesty of the C major concerto.

But before that came Dvořák’s Czech Suite, directed by the COE’s leader Alexander Janiczek. And what a performance! From a compact and not overly lyrical ‘Pastorale’, Janiczek drove the orchestra hard through a simultaneously light and robust ‘Polka’ and an equally precipitous ‘Sousedská’, before taking a breather with a glorious ‘Romanza’, in which the wind soloists painted their colours with great skill above the rich tone of the strings. Then came a rousing ‘Furiant’ – no hazy edges here, but very tight ensemble and some seriously exciting playing.

Following the interval, Mitsuko Uchida returned for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.25. What was most apparent in the Allegro maestoso was the rapport between orchestra and soloist, which really brought out the essential humanity of Mozart’s music: a spectacularly grand opening emphasising the contribution of the wind band; the beautiful communication between the winds and piano (which was to make the final movement such a joy); the way the orchestral accompaniment grew so naturally and almost imperceptibly from the piano part; and to cap it all, a wonderfully witty cadenza in which Uchida underlined the similarity between one of Mozart’s themes and “La Marseillaise”. A light-filled Andante then led straight into the Allegretto finale, in which a delicate opening made the orchestral tutti and the soloist’s initial all the more effective. Again, superb work between Uchida and the flute, oboe and bassoon trio, which lent an intimate chamber-music feel to the overall effect of the movement without lessening its dramatic impact – which was considerable.

A real event, then. The orchestra joined in the lengthy applause for Uchida, as well as congratulating each other with handshakes and slaps on the back. As well they might – it was a night’s work well done.

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