Schubert: Piano Sonata in G Major, D. 894
Beethoven: Thirty-three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op. 120
After whetting my musical appetite with Cantori New York at lunchtime all the way uptown on Wednesday, the following appointment on my To-Do list was attending a recital by the current First Lady of Piano, Dame Mitsuko Uchida, who was making her annual stop at Carnegie Hall that evening to the immeasurable delight of her hordes of New York fans.
The program consisted of Schubert's last and, according to many connoisseurs, best sonata, as well as of Beethoven's monumental Diabelli Variations, which, according to even more connoisseurs, remains the most extraordinary piano work ever composed for its breadth, variety and ambition (Take that, Bach!).
Always an inherently graceful presence on the stage, Mitsuko Uchida never fails to infuse everything she plays with her subtle, unaffected elegance. On Wednesday night, Schubert's Piano Sonata in G Major was no exception, with a performance that quickly became one for the record for its clear, focused playing and immaculately peaceful mood. She deliberately let the music naturally breathe and take a life of its own, mostly shining with a serene luminosity while still being, at times, slightly troubled by the occasional hint of dark or stormy feelings. Those moments, however, did not last, and before long we were all again engaged in tranquil contemplation.
The actual origin of the Diabelli Variations - that is, whether Beethoven wrote them to make money and to show off, or both - may never be confirmed, but their renown as an amazing achievement in piano composition has never been disputed. And who better to bring them to glorious life than a musician heralded for her profound talent and uncompromising integrity? And sure enough, Mitsuko Uchida handled this dazzlingly vast and complex work with the assurance of somebody deeply familiar with the treacherous minefield, impeccably switching gears from delicate to energetic, simple to complicated, funny to serious, inconspicuous to grand, and so much more. The interpretation was intelligent and respectful, the technique brilliant and right on target. Once the monster had been successfully tamed, Mitsuko Uchida came back three times to effusively thank her adoring audience, but that was all. And that was perfect.