Piano Sonatas – No.30 in E, Op.109; No.31 in A-flat, Op.110; No.32 in C-minor, Op.111
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 24 February, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
For this recital, which launched her three-season Perspective series at Carnegie Hall, Mitsuko Uchida returned to Beethoven’s final Piano Sonatas – the most personal and powerful music the composer wrote for the instrument. Completely deaf and battered by illness, he turned increasingly inward, composing not for others to hear, but to realize the soul of his art. The music is tremendously difficult to play, both technically and interpretively; such difficulties, combined with the emotions expressed and many changes of mood that need to be conveyed, make the Sonatas extremely challenging.
Mitsuko Uchida is a rare artist, one who successfully incorporates all these elements into the heart of her playing. On this occasion her selfless interpretations, performed with searing intimacy and rapt concentration, immediately drew us into Beethoven’s world. She was freely rhapsodic in the opening of Opus 109, and in the Variations of the final movement, she alternated a wonderful sense of repose with splendidly executed articulation of its wide-ranging, sometimes finger-busting adornments to the singing melody.
In the sublime Opus 110, it was the timeless quality of her fresh, simple and seamlessly shaped account that most impressed: the gorgeous, hymnlike opening; the evenness and speed of the rippling arpeggios; and the heavenly Adagio ma non troppo unfolding with solemn dignity as it led into the measured paragraphs of the final fugue played with probing intelligence.
In Opus 111, Uchida delivered the opening Maestoso with commanding power, highlighting the music’s fugal elements. Her playing was its most transcendent in the Arietta, in which a simple, melancholy melody turns increasingly complex until it emerges, once again unadorned, against a chorus of elegantly shimmering trills. After the final notes faded into silence, Uchida, her head bowed, kept her hands on the keyboard, as though signaling us to respect the silence. When she lifted them, the quiet was shattered by a tumultuous ovation.