February 20-26, 2003
Mitsuko Uchida, Feb. 12,
That the concert was sold out is a tribute to the respect in which this amazing pianist is held. That the audience was most attentive, even in the midst of flu and cold season, says something about her ability to live up to her reputation. Under the auspices of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Mitsuko Uchida offered a recital of three demanding pieces of music.
Uchida began with the Three Pieces for Piano, Op. 11, by Arnold Schoenberg, composed in 1909. Some regard this as the composer's breakthrough to atonality. Nevertheless, Uchida so burnished the music with an impressionistic aura that it appeared to lie at the dusty intersection of romanticism and expressionism. She managed to bring off this extremely difficult music with such aplomb that it actually seemed natural.
Next came what is really natural, the great G Major Sonata of 1826 by Schubert. There are four movements, which proceed at increasing speed. The first, and longest, must be the one that occasioned the question put to Stravinsky by a friend, "Do you not find Schubert often too long-winded?" To which the master is said to have replied, "What does it matter, if when I wake up I am in heaven?" Uchida is the perfect conveyor of this music, even if a few heads nodded here and there. She brought out many unnoticed substrands of the music, and the rhythms, really the underpinning of this huge late piece, were exact. Some might have missed the spiritual afflatus that, say, Arrau or Kempf could bring to the music, but Uchida, the master of Mozart, won us over one and all.
After intermission we had the plainly unnatural Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17 (1836-38) by a young, out-of-control Robert Schumann, which is generally regarded as his piano masterpiece. What a marvelous mess the music is, like a many-layered onion stuck everywhere with cloves. The second section demands impossible leaps in contrary motion, and the last is a paradise of arpeggios and romantic dreaming. The energetic and passionate first section is the most coherent of the three, but the sweep and power of Uchida's performance held us rapt until the last, when we erupted in praise. The Perelman was overheated, perhaps by all that stage energy, but we persisted, and were rewarded with an encore: the Allemande from J. S. Bach's French Suite No. 5 in G Major, a serene, completely formed and natural ending to one of the best recitals in a long time.