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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Concertos Nos. 9 & 21 (feat. piano: Mitsuko Uchida; The Cleveland Orchestra) Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Uchida's measured approach reaps rewards, capturing the joy in this life-affirming music.

Graham Rogers 2012

Mitsuko Uchida is one of the world's leading Mozarteans. She has championed Mozart's sonatas and concertos for decades, and is now among a handful of peerless elder ambassadors.

Uchida’s complete cycle of Piano Concertos recorded for Philips in the 1980s sometimes suffers from the soft-grained and occasionally routine nature of the English Chamber Orchestra's accompaniment under conductor Jeffrey Tate. But that is not a problem with her series of live concert re-recordings for Decca, made in partnership with the Cleveland Orchestra – a top-pedigree ensemble whose Mozart credentials are second to none – which Uchida directs herself from the keyboard.

This latest issue, the third so far, presents two of the composer's best-loved Piano Concertos (from the dozen or so which qualify for that distinction) – the youthful No.9 in E flat K.271, arguably Mozart's first great masterpiece, and the sunny No.21 in C K.467.

The steady tempo Uchida adopts for the first movement of K.271 epitomises her approach: carefully considered and scintillatingly nuanced. There is no superficiality. In Uchida's intensely thoughtful and mature accounts, every note matters. That does not mean, however, that the performances are over-serious.

The lightly dancing passages in the outer movements of K.271 have rarely sounded so free and nimble, and the finale is brilliantly agile – and Uchida avoids the trap of burdening the minor-key slow movement with wallowing angst. There is certainly plenty of operatic emotional drama, but its power is all the greater for the fluid forward momentum, and mesmerising tranquil poise.

Uchida also captures Mozart's delicious sense of mischief in the minuet inserted unexpectedly into the heart of the finale, floating serenely and relishing the scotch-snap dance rhythms.

The ultra-refined Cleveland sound – plush but assiduously crisp and airy – is heard at its most ingratiating in the radiant opening movement of K.467, and in the delectable Andante which follows. Uchida glides ethereally over the sumptuous flowing strings and delicate but characterful wind interjections.

Other performances may have a greater sense of spontaneity, but Uchida's measured approach reaps huge rewards – and, above all, captures the miraculous joy in this most life-affirming music.

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