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The Resonance of Mind

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
02/11/2011 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 27 in E Minor, Op. 90
Robert Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6
Frédéric Chopin: Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 45 – Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58

Mitsuko Uchida (Pianist)

M. Uchida (© Andrew Sherman)

Mitsuko Uchida’s annual visit to Carnegie Hall is An Event, no doubt about that. Friday night the hawkers were trying to sell tickets at outrageous prices, poorer music lovers lingered sadly around the entrance, waiting for a compassionate person to dole out a seat to them. Isaac Stern Auditorium was more than filled, so the stage behind the artist was filled the acolytes and adorers together.

Yet Ms. Uchida is no icon. She is a steely, sensitive artist. Her recitals supersede mere “events”, they can surprise, bewilder and satisfy, and all for a simple reason. She is more than innately intelligent. Her intelligence means a responsibility to study each composer, each work until it can be played no better.

Perhaps she opened with Beethoven’s Opus 90 simply because she wanted to calm down her expectant audience. This is such a graceful lovely, and even pacific work from beginning to end, that her touch, feeling and the contrasts she made were ideal to start. Yes, the contrasts of the first movement were dramatic, and the end was something of desolation. But Ms. Uchida’s control, balance and hints of repressed feeling were ever-present. I could not imagine a more purely beautiful way–and a less nervy Beethoven–to begin.

At the risk–okay, the certainty!–of sounding like the most uncultured yokel, I’ve never warmed up to Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze. The literary inspirations are as vital as the music, so one must acknowledge the inspiration of Clara Wieck (soon-to-be Clara Schumann), a fictional faction of intellectuals, Florestan and Eusebius, as well as the flighty emotions of Robert Schumann himself. But even had he included in his dramatis personae Pyramus, Thisbe, the Xian Warriors and Papa Smurf, these 18 separate works (or 17, with one reprise), with literal descriptions, leave me cold.

This hardly to denigrate Mr. Uchida, who turned each frippery into a little gem, following each direction. Her Innig movement was inward, feeling. She played the lines of Frisch with fresh joy, and the "very fast" ballad had her own flawless technique bringing out a lovely song. By the time she had finished, with an exquisite drawn-out finale, one had listened to some marvelous music. Unless one had the libretto, though, it didn’t make that much sense.

Perhaps this is senseless, but once she played Chopin’s lone Opus 45 Prelude, one understood exactly what piano works of that period should have been. Schumann laid his heart on his sleeve. Under Ms. Uchida’s hands, Chopin laid his heart in the music, with twisting melodies, secret phrases, measures which transcended Schumannesque dreams of puberty.

The final Chopin Third Sonata was played fearlessly. If Ms. Uchida had started with dreams of peace, this Chopin was attacked, swung into action and was a piece of dazzlement for the pianist.

Except for one thing. The Largo movement, never dragging, always in rhythm, was performed like a Bellini aria: recitatives, a bucolic song, and an ending which, like Ms. Uchida’s playing itself, breathed roses and the most delicate perfumes.

CODA: Just 24 hours after this recital, Ms. Uchida won a Grammy for her recordings of Mozart piano concerti. After her second encore, of an Andante from the K. 545 Sonata, one could understand that her art is as impeccable as her award was inevitable.

Harry Rolnick



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