Mitsuko Uchida - Royal Festival Hall, 5 October 2010
Mitsuko Uchida's playing is too often characterised as 'cool' or 'delicate' when in truth that's just one small aspect of her capabilities. The centrepiece of her programme, Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze, proved it. Each of the eighteen little 'dances' - or were they fragments of a conversation? - was searchingly individualised. Time stood still as Uchida drifted through the more meditative, introspective episodes. Yet she turned into a different pianist as she exploded through the furious runs, levitating briefly from her seat as her fingers powered into the keyboard, rhythmically precise as a flamenco dancer.
Although London is overflowing with theatrical dames of one kind or another, dames of the ivories are a rarer breed. The only ones previously so honoured that I can recall are Dames Myra Hess and Moura Lympany. So even bigger congrats are in order.
Now to swap all that Issey Miyake for a nice twinset and pearls....
Ian Bostridge / Mitsuko Uchida / Elizabeth Kenny / Corin Redgrave - St Luke's, 18 October 2008
A programme devoted solely to the words of John Donne makes perfect sense in theory, but the connection is more intellectual than musical, and the way this one was structured made for a curiously fragmented evening. The first half included love poems set for voice and lute by Donne's contemporaries; the second the searing Britten cycle The Holy Sonnets of John Donne.
Scattered between these were readings of Donne's poetry and religious prose. Or were the songs interleaved between the readings? Corin Redgrave's meticulously-wrapped syllables may have edged the recitations into the lead.
The lute songs were interesting curiosities I suppose, but even Bostridge and Kenny's craftsmanship couldn't conceal their slightness.
Britten's Holy Sonnets of John Donne were another matter. Britten's grim response to the horrors of the Second World War, composed after his visit to liberated German concentration camps, articulate his rage and despair.
They're not an easy listen, and Bostridge slipped naturally into their tortured intensity, corkscrewing his frame in a physical mirror of the angular lines. Rather too many words were addressed to the floor, but even so, there was a shocking directness to their fury. Mitsuko Uchida, rigid and disciplined on the piano stool, produced a bold, impassioned accompaniment. It's hard to conceive how a performance of this quality could be bettered.
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.