LSO Frühbeck Uehara

Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23
The Fountains of Rome
The Firebird – 1919 Suite

Ayako Uehara (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 23 March, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Ayako Uehara is currently dining out on Tchaikovsky. She took first prize in the 2002 Tchaikovsky Competition and she has recorded an excellent disc of the composer’s music for EMI. Unfortunately, her live account of the ubiquitous B flat minor Concerto didn’t match that promise. The horn-led introduction included a bum note, which proved indicative of a functional response from the LSO, one a little uncertain and shaky at times. Uehara’s first entry, a split-second out of sync, was disappointingly literal. Although she has a fine dynamic range, can play sensitively and with clarity, and is clearly a thoughtful musician, this concerto rather dwarfed her (which is not a comment on her physique), and she wasn’t able to play octave passages quite as cleanly as needed. She produces a nice sound, though, although the fortissimos were over-pedalled. The famous introduction to the concerto was made very heavy weather of, and the whole concerto was contorted in a way that it simply can’t take – start, stop and dither; the flow was impeded, the sections all too obvious, tension sagged, and the cadenza was dawdled over. And it all seemed rather contrived, too. The Andante semplice similarly all but halted, and only the finale caught fire, although the apotheosis was more portentous than uplifting. In Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, Uehara had a gallant accompanist; but he was no more than that: sometimes both he and the LSO seemed only present to make the numbers up. Do get her Tchaikovsky CD though (link below), which is a much more positive experience.

In the orchestral showpieces, the always-welcome Frühbeck conjured fastidious accounts of familiar music. Given the dawn-to-dusk nature of Fountains, Frühbeck’s tempo-related account made architectural sense and he drew playing that was colour- and timbre-conscious as well as appropriately fluid, impish, majestic and spectral. A shame though that there was no organ for the third section, ‘The Trevi fountain at midday’ – its subterranean throb was missed and overloud brass was no compensation. It was though a pleasure to hear a performance in which a musician believes in every note and conducts it with lucid expertise without jumping on the showman’s bandwagon. Firebird wasn’t quite so successful, although it had all the fine hallmarks that had distinguished the Respighi, but rather collapsed with a tepid, tempo-retarded account of ‘Kaschei’s Dance’. Towards the close, David Pyatt’s splendid horn solo and sul ponticello effects hung tantalisingly in the air to make some amends.

But there was an incomplete feeling to this concert, and not just because there was no overture (Berlioz’s Roman Carnival would have made a good start); yet something like this was needed at the beginning, and the LSO wasn’t consistently inspired.

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