Mitsuko Uchida at Royal Festival Hall

Piano Sonata in E minor, Op.90
Davidsbündlertänze, Op.6
Prelude in C sharp minor, Op.45
Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 5 October, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Mitsuko Uchida. Photograph: Richard AvedonPushing the boundaries of romance seemed to be the theme of Mitsuko Uchida’s recital, the main point of which was to showcase the addition of the Schumann Davidsbündlertänze to her repertory – her recording has just been released, coupled with the Fantaisie.

She infused the contrast in the first movement of the Beethoven with an urgency that harked back to the impetuosity of the early sonatas, pushing its expressiveness to extremes. It slipped naturally into context, however, with the start of the second movement, which was like opening a window onto the bliss of relaxation. This was a complete vision of one of Beethoven’s loveliest, most lyrical sonatas, and it showed off Uchida’s awesomely powerful, even left-hand and the sheer vivacity of her involvement in the music.

If you’ve ever heard Uchida being interviewed, you can’t help but be aware of her explosive good humour, fierce intelligence and unique, highly articulate manner of speech. Her way with Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze was entirely in the same mould. The two imaginary ‘friends’ Schumann assigned to his own character, floaty Eusebius and extrovert Florestan, seemed like old friends to Uchida, as they stood their ground against the Philistines of culture – not quite arty versus hearty, but certainly free-thinking Davids versus the Goliaths of tradition. This was a spellbinding performance – perceptive, wise, gnomic, affectionate, virtuosic, impulsive – and Uchida had a prodigious range of colour at her disposal for these 18 character pieces. Sometimes it sounded like Kinderszenen for grown-ups in its humour and warmth, and always, as in the remarkable ‘dances’ (Nos.13 and 17), right at the generous heart of Schumann. It’s strange that Uchida has recorded so little of a composer who is so obviously a soul-mate – unconventional and full of grace.

As it happens, Uchida has only made one Chopin disc, of the Second and Third Sonatas, twelve years ago. The first movement of the B minor had classical shape and momentum, and her reading of the Maestoso direction was finely and weightily judged, followed by a dazzlingly airy scherzo and a beautifully shaped, lyrical slow movement. After the high-definition high-jinks of the Schumann, the sonata came across as one of Chopin’s most Olympian statements, and the nocturne-like Prelude, Opus 45, with its questing, insecure harmonies, was a useful link between the two.

To clinch her view of aspects of Romanticism, Uchida played for her encore the first movement of the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, a study in motionless, veiled and remote shades of grey that Schumann or Chopin would have been proud of. As you’ll have gathered, this was a life-enhancing concert.

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