MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K. 271 “Jeunehomme”; Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467 – Mitsuko Uchida, piano & cond./ The Cleveland Orchestra – Decca B0017181-02, 62:33 ****:
Conducting Mozart concertos from the piano certainly has a long and honored tradition, originating with the composer himself and progressing through the likes of Edwin Fischer, Paul Badura-Skoda, Geza Anda, Murray Perahia, and now (5-7 April 2012) Mitsuko Uchida, who leads the sparkling ensemble of Cleveland Orchestra players. Uchida performs on a new Hamburg Steinway whose action remains uniformly light and resonant, especially as Uchida does not mince her dynamics. There exists a wonderful response in the rhythmic and harmonic flux of the E-flat Major Concerto as Uchida and the Cleveland Orchestra realize it; it makes us lament that Robert Casadesus did not record the concerto in his heyday with George Szell at the helm. Even among Mozart concertos, the 1768 Jeunehomme Concerto occupies a special place in the evolution of Mozart’s dramatic mix of vocal instrumentalism and dynamic drama. But we need only audition this fine collaboration to enjoy the scintillating energy of the outer movements and the internal rigors of the C Minor Andantino. The last movement virtually bubbles with infectious wit and digital confidence.
The 1785 C Major Concerto has enjoyed an uninterrupted popularity ever since the tragic love-story Elvira Madigan movie visualized the opening muted measures of the Andante. But the first movement, Allegro maestoso, too, has its dark elements in the midst of martial gaiety. The G Minor episode in the early aspect of the piano’s second subject assumes a lyrical grace as Mozart employs a theme he had used in his K. 447 Horn Concerto. Uchida selects a tempo that maintains a balance between swagger and epic assertion, while her strings, winds, horns, and tympani elicit a fecund, virile accompaniment. The startling clarity of execution will commend this performance to many auditors, a clean, transparent but supple reading whose fioritura and ornaments extend naturally out of the lyrico-dramatic filigree Mozart provides. Uchida’s upward scales provide a lesson in the galant style all their own. Uchida provides her own cadenza for the first movement, chromatic and momentarily contrapuntal.
The famed F Major Andante, with its leap of a seventh, emanates a cool intimacy, the walking tempo respected and not turned into syrup or molasses. As the music proceeds, the sound becomes ever more inward, forcing us to appreciate the shifts in accent in the parlando style of vocal delivery the piano assumes while accompanied by flute and bassoon. The strings, of course, have their pungent sforzati that urge the music painfully into distant tonalities, C Minor and A-flat Major. The zesty Allegro vivace assai has rarely had a gregarious exponent to equal the famed Gieseking/Cantelli performance from New York, but Uchida’s sparkling improvisatory style makes for an ardent rivalry. The give-and-take response between Uchida and he Cleveland strings and winds attractively beguiles us. Then, her seamless runs and arpeggios move inexorably to a bravura cadenza almost early Beethoven in its briefly pearly wit that rushes to a coda spread over three octaves. Superb!
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