Mitsuko Uchida, St George’s , Sep 24
Ah, the joys of Bristol (II)…
They feel routine in one way (packed house, sparkling performance, rapturous reception), but an Uchida recital is also extraordinary. This night at St George’s was no exception. The opening Moonlight Sonata did give me pause – is it because it has become such a cliché, or is it in fact one of Beethoven’s less interesting works? But the larger piece (or rather 18 pieces in one opus) in the first half, Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze Op 6 had enough connections with it to make the reason for the choice clearer. Didn’t know that at all, and it contains so much it was hard to take in, but it is clearly a tour de force, and makes huge demands on the performer. Schumann achieved scale by assembling lots of small components, and the resulting shifts in mood and tempo are bemusing and intriguing at the same time. This was absorption in a vast piano canvas almost (but not quite) on the scale of Joanna McGregor’s Messaien marathon a while back – and carried off in stunning style. As ever, Uchida is an absorbed and absorbing performer. No charming words with the audience this evening, just remarkable playing. There’s a transcendentally sniffy Guardian reviewer writing about her new recording of the Schumann here – supremely intelligent playing but not enough risk taking to be truly satisfying, says the critic, so “not an unqualified success”. Ignore him.
After a piece which would leave most people limp, she then returned for a generous helping of Chopin at his most flamboyant (including the last piano sonata) and was, if anything, even more transfixing. Once again, St George’s stands out as one of the best possible venues for a piano recital. That continue next year, I hear, with a Paul Lewis season, with big helpings of Schubert. Like Uchida, they will be dates to book early!