Friday, April 19, 2013

Mitsuko Uchida - Bach, Schoenberg & Schumann - 04/18/13

Bach: Prelude and Fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II
No 1 in C Major, BWV 870
No 14 in F Sharp Minor, BWV 883
Schoenberg: Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19
Schumann: Waldszenen, Op. 82
Schumann: Piano Sonata No 2 in G Minor, Op. 22
Schumann: Fünf Gesänge der Frühe, Op. 1333

After Wednesday night's big Romantic orchestral hoopla consisting in Brahms' overture, concerto and symphony, not to mention a little Wagner bonus for good measure, last night was a decidedly more sedate but no less exciting affair with a recital, dedicated to the memory of Sir Colin Davis as well, by the undisputed First Lady of the Piano Mitsuko Uchida. When such a celebrated musician headlines, needless to say the program is mere details, but in this case the mere details were rather intriguing as they included restrained Classicism and vibrant Romanticism, with Arnold Schoenberg, of all people, acting as the go-between. Hmmm...

Bach is a name always welcome on any kind of program. And when his compositions are played by such expert hands, flawlessly striking the perfect balance between grace and assertiveness, their intrinsic clarity and unfussy elegance cannot but unperturbedly shine on. So there was ever-mesmerizing Dame Mitsuko Uchida, effortlessly negotiating the early German master's works with a subtle touch and plenty of poise.
Although I've always had a love/hate relationship with Schoenberg (Fell in deep love with Verklärte Nacht, ran out screaming of Pierrot Lunaire), I am still open to discovering new works of his because, well, he is who he is. Those Six Little Piano Pieces were actually tiny and the whole thing was over in about... six minutes. They, however, packed a lot of tension in this short period of time and constantly kept the audience on their feet, wrapping up at their most Romantic point, when bell-like chords expressed grief over the death of Gustav Mahler, Schoenberg's close friend and fellow Viennese music man.
As it was, one could not have found a better transition to Schumann's hymn to nature that is his Waldszenen. Inspired by a walk in the woods, he recreated lively vignettes filled with sounds and visions associated with a bucolic environment, and Mitsuko Uchida guided us through those wonders of wilderness with poetry, gentleness, vivacity, and the occasional dissonance.
Then came the intermission, which yesterday was not only the usual welcome opportunity to stretch my legs, but also the eagerly awaited chance to flee over two seats and across the aisle in an attempt to escape the undesirable additional soundtrack provided by the relentlessly wheezing guy sitting next to me. Granted, in my new spot I no longer had the view, but most importantly I had gotten rid of the sound, so I declared victory. Once settled, a look around me indicated that quite a few companions of misery had managed to migrate to quieter vicinities as well, which was not an easy task in the packed auditorium.
The second part of the program was therefore enjoyed to the fullest, starting with Schumann's early Piano Sonata No 2 in G Minor. An extensive and demanding virtuoso work, it however did not intimidate Mitsuko Uchida a bit as she handled it with her signature dexterity, vigor and finesse. The woman can clearly do no wrong.
Twenty years later and only three years before his death, Schumann wrote Fünf Gesänge der Frühe, whose occasional peculiarities bear unmistakable testimony to the composer's declining lucidity. Comprising a wide range of sounds and emotions, these Five Songs of Dawn are profoundly fascinating, if not always coherent. Here again, Mitsuko Uchida kept her insightful command over the music and delivered a beautifully nuanced performance of them.

Schumann's mysterious and heart-breaking swan song would have been a more than appropriate ending to a superb recital, but it turns out that we were in for two more delightful treats with Scarlatti's Sonata in D Minor and Mozart's Andante cantabile from Sonata in C Major. Just when we thought it could not have gotten much better, Mitsuko Uchida still managed to prove us wrong.

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