Mozart has few interpreters as bright, subtle and deceptively transparent as Mitsuko Uchida. Under her hands, his music speaks openly and directly; this pianist seems always to abjure personal “interpretation” in favour of what the notes really say – though of course she is doing both of those things, in her own deeply thought-out style. Her Barbican recital was all Mozart: pieces composed in the last four years of his life, which ended in 1791. The hall was packed: Uchida has become wildly admired these days, and for good reason.
At the interval of this Barbican recital, however, there was a distinct feeling of let-downness among the crowd. Uchida had played the C minor Fantasy, the Sonata in the same key (K.457) – each with its interesting moments, but not remotely comparable to his last solo-piano works. Not even Uchida’s keen insight could discern much gold in these unprofitable lesser pieces. And I expected more from her account of the fine B minor Adagio (K.540) than we heard: on a modern grand piano she let it sound too flaccid to register its proper depths. It wanted sharper features, tighter shaping, which would have registered better on a period fortepiano.
After the interval, though, we suddenly rediscovered the real Mozart and the real Uchida. She played his late composite “sonata” in F (cobbled together from various movements, K.533/ K.494), and made it sound a complete and satisfying piece. Her finale was Mozart’s last, brilliant sonata, K.576 in D major, chock-a-block with ingenious contrapuntal voices and grand dramatic variety. All of that was perfect grist to the Uchida mill, and she turned it out with superlative vividness.
Her first encore was, I think, the fourth of Schoenberg’s atonal Six Little Pieces, one of his last pre-12-note studies, a tiny firework that detonates in less than half a minute. She set it off perfectly. There were more encores, but I was already more than satisfied, and went home. One doesn’t want to overdo abject admiration of a monstre sacré. ★★★★☆
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