Uchida, LSO/Colin Davis – 21 February

Piano Concerto No.22 in E flat, K482
Piano Concerto No.26 in D, K537 (Coronation)
Symphony No. 8 in B minor (Unfinished)

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: Neil Evans

Reviewed: 21 February, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Mitsuko Uchida has long been admired as a Mozart pianist. She is as comfortable in Berg, Webern and Debussy but she is never away from the classical and romantic repertoire for long. And though her 1980s’ Mozart concerto performances and recordings are already classics – remember her brilliant TV performances with Jeffrey Tate? – she is not one to rest on her laurels. She is one of those artists who continues to find new insights and she was doing just that at this concert with the London Symphony Orchestra and another great Mozartian, Sir Colin Davis, in two concertos to which she brought oodles of freshness and intelligence.

In the E flat she was acutely aware of the weight and interestof Mozart’s writing for sections of the orchestra and was even happy to let them take the lead. This is Mozart at his most conversational and Uchida – whose great respect for Colin Davis was obvious from the moment she walked onto the platform – seemed to relish not only the vision shared by soloist and conductor but by the LSO’s ensemble too. It didn’t always quite, however, achieve the musical unity for which everyone was clearly striving. The opening bars of the first movement could have been tauter and the woodwinds betrayed the odd intonation problem. In the slow movement Uchida started to perfect that delicate, hazy, almost hallowed touch, with every note not just crisply articulated but somehow completely rounded. It’s what makes her Mozart slow movements so magical. But it really got together with the jaunty finale and its hunting tune.

The Coronation Concerto might not be as popular a piece now but during the nineteenth-century it was the most loved of Mozart’s concertos. It doesn’t have the big tune or the fascinating dialogue, and the solo line can be conventional. But Uchida and Davis attacked this piece with expansive gusto as if to point up the work’s anticipation of Beethoven, Weber and Chopin. Such persuasive advocacy urged re-evaluation of this work.

The filling in the sandwich was a ravishing account of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony in which the lyrical theme of the first movement was dispatched with soft translucent beauty by the strings and then countered by heroic angst from the full orchestra with Davis at his most inspired and humane.

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