Mitsuko Uchida and Colleagues: Chamber Music at its Finest

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Berg, Schubert, Messiaen: Mitsuko Uchida (piano); Musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: Daishin Kashimoto (violin); Ludwig Quandt (cello); Wenzel Fuchs (clarinet). Wigmore Hall,  London, 17.12.2013 (CC)

Berg – Adagio from the Chamber Concerto, arr. piano, violin, clarinet
Schubert – Notturno, D897
MessiaenQuatuor pour le fin du temps

This challenging and rewarding programme, so carefully planned, sold out the Wigmore Hall. Perhaps it was the presence of Uchida; or perhaps that of members of the Berlin Philharmonic; perhaps the combination of the two. But whatever the case, it was wonderful to see such a packed space for this music.

It was interesting to see Uchida, so self-effacing, at the back of the hall and behind the other players, every inch the chamber musician. And how it paid off! The arrangement for piano, violin and clarinet of the Adagio from Berg’s Chamber Concerto came off superbly. Daishin Kashimoto’s violin was huge of sound and full of passion; Uchida was remarkably unobtrusive, yet listen carefully and her links with the other instruments – where she passes a fragment to them or where they continue an ascent she has begun – were impeccable. The lyric, yearning impulse of the music was fully honoured.

The Schubert Notturno for piano trio, and probably dating from the last year of the composer’s life, was magnificent in concentration, a pure and true reminder of Uchida’s stature in the music of this composer (even as accompanist). Kashimoto and Quandt were perfectly matched in their parallel statements of the theme. It was a gorgeous way to usher in the interval, even though the first half was on the short side, after which the harrowing Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time was performed.

The circumstances of composition and first performance of Messiaen’s piece are so well known as to render repetition unnecessary, but it would surely be difficult to imagine a more powerful performance than the present one. Not everything was absolutely secure technically, and not everything was absolutely together. But how finely the fragile nature of the opening ‘Liturgie de crystal’ was projected. Wenzel Fuchs’ solo movement, ‘Abîme des oiseaux’, not only provided a place of solace but also revealed true mastery of his instrument, with pianissimi just audible yet perfectly controlled. The impeccable unisons of all four instrumentalists in the sixth movement, ‘Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes’ enabled terrific energy, while Kashimoto’s final movement contribution found the piece stretching out into eternity. Only Ludwig Quandt, very occasionally, seemed less sure of himself than his colleagues. But certainly not enough to detract from the fact that this whole second half represented chamber music at its finest. Messiaen’s Quartet surely must be experienced live, and to hear it in such a stunning way as this was a privilege indeed.

Colin Clarke

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