Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mitsuko Uchida - Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin - 02/11/11

Beethoven: Sonata No 27 in E Minor, Op. 90
Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6
Chopin: Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 45
Chopin: Sonata No 3 in B Minor, Op. 58

There’s nothing like a brilliant piano recital to get over a hectic work day and celebrate New York City's first snow-free week in quite a while, so that’s just what I attended last Friday night at Carnegie Hall where the Grande Dame of the piano world, Mitsuko Uchida, who incidentally became an actual Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire last year, was displaying her remarkable, long internationally recognized talent during a concert focusing on 19th century Classical and Romantic masters such as Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin. What was there not to love?

Consisting of only two drastically distinct movements, Beethoven’s Sonata No 27 is a nice little piece that may not rank among the top of the composer’s œuvre (It is tough competition up there.) but remains nevertheless a very pleasant study in contrasting moods. After her classy silhouette gracefully glided across the stage to the grand piano waiting for her, Mitsuko Uchida promptly sat down and immediately launched an assertive attack on the first turbulent movement before effortlessly switching gears for the more thoughtful second one, breathing new, vibrant life into a somewhat minor work.
Another composition featuring musical dialogues between two different voices is Davidsbündlertänze by Schumann, allegedly written to win his fellow pianist Clara Wieck’s hand against her father’s wishes. They did eventually marry, although it is unclear if his popular collection of 18 shorts vignettes – not dances, no matter what the title may imply – had a direct part in the achievement. In the Dances of the League of David, two opposite characters representing their creator's dual nature, the hot-blooded Florestan and the sensitive Eusebius, engage in spirited exchanges, even joining forces in four of the numbers. Ever poised under pressure, Mitsuko Uchida brought her stunning precision and regal touch to this lively homage to Schumann's fictional anti-Philistines League of David for an all-around beautiful performance of it.
Last, but not least, came Chopin with a short, spontaneous-sounding prelude before his much meatier Sonata No 3 in C-sharp Minor, the latter clearly highlighting the outstanding fluidity of the performer's playing. Thanks to an assertive opening to the otherwise elegant first movement, a fun-filled Scherzo, a gorgeously lyrical, Nocture-like Largo, and a boundlessly energetic finale, this composition could easily become a comprehensive crash course in “Chopin 101: the firebrand and the dreamer”. The packed, breathlessly attentive audience loved it and gave it a well-deserved, rousing ovation.

Our loud appreciation of the concert was not in vain and Dame Mitsuko Uchida came back for two ethereally delicate encores, Schumann's Aveu from Carnival, Op. 9 and Mozart's lovely Andante from Sonata in C major, K. 545, which concluded the concert with calm and serenity.

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