New York Philharmonic/Sir Colin Davis Mitsuko Uchida

Symphony No.85 in B flat (La Reine)
Piano Concerto No.19 in F, K.459
Symphony No.4 in C minor (Tragic)

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

New York Philharmonic
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Victor Wheeler

Reviewed: 24 March, 2007
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

Haydn’s Symphony 85 is one of six symphonies, collectively known as the ‘Paris Symphonies’ (numbers 82-87),which Haydn composed for a concert society in Paris between 1785 and 1786. It is said to have been Marie Antoinette’s favorite symphony; hence the nickname ‘La Reine’ (The Queen). H.C. Robbins Landon wrote in his lofty tome “The Symphonies of Joseph Haydn” that this symphony “has a queenly grace and dignity, an elegance and formal perfection to match its musical strength”. It was if the New York Philharmonic played the symphony with the quote in mind. From the opening Adagio introduction to the simple French folk-melody of the ‘Romanze’ to the dreamy playing of the two oboes, solo flute, and one of two bassoons in the Minuet to the mixture of sonata and rondo form in the finale, the orchestra played with a combination of deftness, precision, grace, subtly, and power. Some of the most emotive moments were the oboe passages in the first movement. They were played with a consummate skill that evoked passion and pathos, emotions that at times inter-twined. Sir Colin Davis conducted with expertise and control, and at times subjugated the latter to permit emotional outbursts, particularly from the horns and winds.

Colin Davis, of course, is an authoritative interpreter of Mozart; the orchestra was in perfect partnership and synchrony with Mitsuko Uchida. Indeed the orchestra held center-stage for numerous bars of music. Even before Uchida began playing, her presence was felt; she did not sit quietly at the piano but instead swayed to the orchestral sounds while keeping tempo with her feet. Once she did begin the mood turned electric. Her dexterity became evident as she elicited the piano’s various and varied voices effortlessly and gracefully, and where necessary, resolution. Throughout, there were many magical moments. She played Mozart’s cadenzas. Sir Colin Davis admirably blended the superb musical skills and intelligent ethos of the New York Philharmonic with the incandescent musicianship of Uchida.

Like his ‘Unfinished’ and ‘Great C major’ symphonies, Schubert never heard his self-named ‘Tragic’; the public premiere took place 21 years after his death at age 31. Even though the symphony is written in a minor key and the first part of the first movement is an Adagio molto, the main body of the first movement is an Allegro vivace full of boisterous and heroic music. A lyrical motif is evident in the Andante second movement, pushed forward by the strings and oboes in dialogue with each other. The conversation that results is one of beautiful melody and ethereal charm with the winds and horns adding their lustrous voices, too. The Minuet movement was played robustly while convincingly contrasting with the lyric Trio section. The Allegro fourth movement is related to the first movement in its thematic content and power. The New York Philharmonic expertly brought forth all the symphony’s thematic and musical connections, a cohesive whole held together by the insightful conducting of Sir Colin Davis.

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