Deeply Rewarding Schubert from Dame Mitsuko Uchida

29/11/2017

Schubert: Dame Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Royal Festival Hall, London, 28.11.2017. (CC)

Schubert – Piano Sonata in C minor, D958 (1828); Piano Sonata in A, D664 (1819); Piano Sonata in G, D894 (1826)

In the first of two evenings in the same week of Schubert piano sonatas, Dame Mitsuko Uchida confirmed her status as one of the great Schubertians of her age. Her Philips recordings of the Schubert piano sonatas have long since acquired the status of modern classics; it was good to check in on her evolving interpretations, though. Uchida is one of the great thinkers of the piano as well as one of the great poets. Her interpretations are continually in flux.

Some more fragile moments of technique and memory reminded us that no-one stays young forever, and the opening movement on the C minor Sonata took a while to settle in, but throughout it was beyond doubt that we were in the presence of a modern great. Another thing that was for sure is that Uchida takes risks, thriving on the public experience, imparting an urgency to the dotted rhythms of D958’s first movement. More, the drama of this movement was beautifully conveyed, from pregnant silences to rich chordal sequences.

It was clear from her body language that Uchida really did not want to wait for the ailing London November chests to quieten before diving into the Adagio. Uchida, of all modern pianists, has perfect congruence with the twilit, time-transcending nature of Schubert’s slow movements. Exquisite chording seemed to sum up the perfection of Uchida’s approach before the exploratory Menuetto and its oddly mysterious Trio took over. The sprightly finale suffered from the occasional technical slip, yet remained fresh throughout.

It was good to hear the lesser-known A major Sonata, D664, making for a long first half – duration as a positive aspect, as it gave us a chance to immerse ourselves in Schubert’s genius, It was fascinating how Uchida treated the opening hesitantly, easing in gently; on the exposition repeat, she changed this to something more resolute, surer of foot. Repeats are never just repeats with Uchida, with everything carefully considered to illuminate structure. The counterpoint of the central Andante was a miracle of tenderness, while the finale exuded majestic grace laced with sparkling wit.

After the interval came the great G major Sonata of 1826 (D894). The first movement of this sonata is marked Molto moderato e cantabile and here unfolded in a cloud of timelessness, the chords just resonating on. Clock time effectively became meaningless in this forest of sonic beauty, Uchida’s pedalling a model of long-honed wisdom. The Andante was fascinating in that it turned towards the interior on a sixpence, while the Menuetto and Trio held moments of the most captivating lullaby. The pastoral charm of the final Allegretto was projected through a pure mastery of piano sonority. Superb.

Finally succumbing to the audience reaction and providing an encore, Uchida indicated with her hands first ‘one’ and then ‘small’. And so it was: Schoenberg’s Op.19/2, with its fragile thirds and swooping, expressive lines, wrought with such care that one felt this was the landscape of a very much post-Schubertian Winterreise.

Colin Clarke

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