Mackerras & Uchida

Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K546
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466
Symphony No.2 in E flat, Op.63

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 16 June, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Sir Charles Mackerras announced the dedication of this concert to the memory of the recently deceased Carlo Maria Giulini, whose association with the Philharmonia Orchestra was legendary. Mackerras alluded to the appropriate programme, minor-key Mozart and Elgar’s Second Symphony with its funeral march slow movement.

Elgar symphonies no longer a rarity, one of Mozart’s most famous piano concertos and Elgar 2 might appear routine repertoire. Both Sir Charles and Mitsuko Uchida rose to the occasion and produced memorable performances.Uchida, now with a conductor again for this music, seemed relatively carefree in ‘only’ having to play the piano part; and no wonder with Mackerras on wonderful form. The work’s deep undercurrents were properly acknowledged but it was the moments of joy, particularly in the finale, that made a strong impression. Uchida hugged Mackerras at the end and applauded the fine contribution from the woodwinds.

Then came Elgar with his expansive and sometimes subversive Second Symphony. Mackerras launched the first movement with a brisk flourish and maintained momentum and did not indulge the wistful episodes. Hence the movement emerged as cogent symphonic statement. The slow movement had a firm but not debilitating tread and the climactic section was beautifully poised. The cello section, which had introduced portamento in the first movement, very reminiscent of Elgar’s own recording, excelled itself throughout. Mackerras launched the scherzo with a furious pace and the orchestra responded with wonderful panache. Only in the finale did the players and conductor fail to hide the paucity of invention that shows this movement to be Elgar’s weakest in either of his two (completed) symphonies. Were it not for the symphonic study, Falstaff, written a few years later, it would be quite in order to claim a diminution in Elgar’s musical imagination at the time of finishing this symphony. The wistful coda on this occasion was movingly realised and the rather pompous passages were dispelled by this quiet, dignified close.

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