Mitsuko Uchida plays Schubert Piano Sonatas at Royal Festival Hall (2) – D575, D845, D850

Piano Sonata in B, D575
Piano Sonata in A-minor, D845
Piano Sonata in D, D850

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

Reviewed by: Pedro Correa Martín-Arroyo

Reviewed: 1 December, 2017
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Dame Mitsuko UchidaPhotograph: Richard AvedonDespite being among his least popular, these three Schubert Piano Sonatas are nonetheless excellent examples of his boundless imagination and colourful range. At times playful, at times turbulent, Schubert’s pianistic style demands total commitment from the artist in order to bring to life its complex structure. Mitsuko Uchida delivered masterly interpretations.

Uchida’s excellent sense of form was ever-present in the B-major work, which includes an unusual four-key exposition (B, G, E, F-sharp). Despite an impatient and temperamental beginning in the exposition and then the development, Uchida’s interpretation featured a very elastic understanding of tempo that brought the latter’s fantasia-like passages to life. The recapitulation, by contrast, was both playful and well-balanced, leading to a graceful end. In the Andante, Uchida took us to a completely different world of heartfelt and soulful sonorities, with a solemn first theme followed by a second one gloriously sung by the left-hand and later beautifully interwoven. The Scherzo was executed with resolution and the Finale was exquisite and heartfelt.

The A-minor Sonata (D845) is rhapsodic in character and demonstrates a highly developed sense of harmony and structure. Uchida truly brought the music to life, and gifted us a development reminiscent of Schubert’s most restless Lieder. Despite some minor mishaps in the climatic passages, Uchida always remained in control and brought the movement to a warm recapitulation and a delightful coda. The following Andante is a great example of Schubert’s economy of language and creative genius. Despite the initial theme’s childlike innocence, the variations that follow drive the listener into a hypnotic state created by increasingly shorter note-values – an effect mastered by Beethoven in his later piano works. Uchida’s interpretation was simply exceptional, as it was her magical rendition of its last few bars. The Scherzo featured a beautiful Trio reminiscent of the barcarolle of the Venetian gondoliers. Despite an ambitious tempo in the Finale – at times too fast – it was insightfully interpreted.

Following the interval, Uchida returned with D850. After a flamboyant opening, the first movement features a highly expressive second subject, Uchida leading us through endless changes of colour. Similarly, her charming rendition of the romance-like second movement did not disappoint, and in the Scherzo she did an excellent job of contrasting the quasi-waltz ternary rhythm with a hypnotic rendition of the Trio. In the Finale, the apparent innocence of the opening theme was followed by splendidly executed bravura passages, which nonetheless leads to a delicate coda during which the main idea graciously diluted into silence.

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