Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Mitsuko Uchida - Royal Festival Hall, 5 November 2007
Did Mitsuko Uchida pick half and leave the orchestra to pick the rest? It might explain the rather odd programme, chunks of Strauss and Wagner sandwiched between two of Mozart's most popular piano concertos. Or perhaps the idea was to show that this small but perfectly formed orchestra can turn its hand to just about anything.
The conductor-free format saw Uchida guide the orchestra from her piano stool, back to audience, for the opener, Mozart's Piano Concerto no.19. With light fluttering gestures, she coaxed a performance as crisp and weightless as her ice blue organdy jacket, and her own featherweight grace was blemished only by some slightly smudgy articulation in the left hand.
I'd love to be able to say Uchida's clothing choices reflect her music -- they don't, but the flowing unstructured forms, tonal palette and textural contrasts do at least display a consistent aesthetic - tonight in the form of a pale ruched cami and loose slate sik velvet pants.
Off went the piano and Uchida as the strings were left to it for Strauss's Metamorphosen. Under the invisible guidance of leader Alexander Janiczek, we witnessed the phenomenon of twenty-three musicians linked as telepathically as a quartet, one single body exhaling Strauss's great collective sigh.
After the interval came Wagner's Siegfried Idyll. How pleasant it was to sit back and enjoy this Siegfried-digest without the distraction of a hefty tenor bellowing and galumphing around the stage. The sheer finesse of every single musician's performance, not to mention the perfection of tone and ensemble, were a delight rarely heard in these parts. For once, I appreciated the hall's new acoustic. At least in the centre, and aided by the perfect intonation of every single player, it rendered every note crystal clear.
Uchida and her piano were wheeled back on to finish with Mozart's Piano Concerto no.20, the handsome to no.19's pretty. Uchida painted it dark and brooding with a devilish smile, almost more Beethovien than Beethoven. The odd-looking programme at last made sense.