The featured CD's recording of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 18 will air on Classical KING FM 98.1 on Wednesday, January 28 at 8am. The Piano Concerto No. 19 will air on Thursday, January 29 at 8am.
One can always be amazed by the great focus and honesty with which Mozart’s music was conceived. The nature of his music has an essential purity that tends to make the task of giving an excellent performance monumentally difficult. Each phrase seems to hold a magnifying glass to the performer’s every flaw. The great realism that is afforded by the current practices of recording engineering makes the task of making an album even more daunting. However, Mitsuko Uchida
and the Cleveland Orchestra
are certainly up for the challenge. One of the many Mozart collaborations of the Uchida-Cleveland team was awarded a Grammy Award in 2011
, and this latest
does not fail to impress with its technical precision and clarity of musical concept. Uchida directs from the piano in this performance, recorded in April 2014 at Severance Hall.
If you’re looking for a good example of piano technique with the purity and gleaming polish to match the lacquer on a brand-new Steinway grand, this is it. Such flowing lightness of touch through fast runs, exact rhythm, and subtle use of pedal are not only drool-worthy for every aspiring pianist, but are essential for a high-class contemporary recording of Mozart. Uchida’s touch displays great flexibility, from a soft piano
that is delicate and intimate to the right amount of power in forte
. The loud passages demand the listener’s attention just as effectively as the soft passages invite and beguile.
Uchida and the Cleveland Orchestra appear to stick to modern performance traditions here, with the orchestra using a lush sound full of vibrato throughout and often shunning the nachschlag
, that little flourish often added at the end of trills in early music practice. Though this recording is certainly not a “historically informed” performance, this is not an observation on its quality, just a testament to its approach. The Cleveland Orchestra’s playing is characteristically precise, with tremendous accuracy of intonation and articulation. Short notes are given great energy and lightness to showcase the playfulness of Mozart’s phrases, and appropriately strong attacks give good force to the more declamatory of Mozart’s outbursts. Attempts at phrasing in Mozart can often go too far, appearing unnatural or over-mannered; Uchida and Cleveland take a much more understated approach, adding beautiful contours with a subtle, gentle elegance. It is possible that this highly refined playing misses a couple opportunities to really reach out and grab the listener in the 19th
concerto. However, Uchida makes bolder choices in the second movement of the 18th
, with great sensitivity and a wonderful sense of drama in the recitative-like solo passages. Both solo and orchestral playing in the angsty minore
of this movement is tremendously expressive, and the decision to limit the maggiore
section to solo strings in order to create a more contrasting environment was an effective one.
The partnership of Mitsuko Uchida and the Cleveland Orchestra is one of deep communication and a clear, unified vision of what this music should sound like. It is one that is wonderful to experience, and leaves the listener yearning to witness this collaboration live.
Geoffrey Larson is the Assistant Music Director at Classical KING FM 98.1, and the Music Director of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra.