Mitsuko Uchida - Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Tue 13 Aug 2013 (4 stars)

This article is from 2013

Mitsuko Uchida - Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Tue 13 Aug 2013

The celebrated pianist performs Bach, Schoenberg and Schumann at the EIF

It doesn't get any more temple-of-high-culture than Mitsuko Uchida at the Usher Hall during the EIF, and everything suggested that tonight was going to obey the wacky rituals of the contemporary classical concert. The Usher Hall itself seemed to have turned an even more dispiriting than usual shade of brown.

Dame Mitsuko ambled out unfazed with a beaming smile, and launched into a couple of Bach preludes and fugues with gusto. I was in the company of a wise but sceptical former French Horn player, who was of the opinion that Uchida was a tad too generous with the ritardandi, slowing down too much for dramatic emphasis in pieces that aren't meant to have that kind of drama. Me, I'd enjoy your infant niece playing Bach on an Early Learning Centre xylophone just because it's Bach, but he had a point. Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces, though, were outstanding, exploding in bursts of colour and, in the last piece, coaxed out of the piano with unsurpassable gentleness. Schoenberg’s instruction 'wie ein Hauch' was fulfilled: you'll believe a piano can breathe.

The Schumann selection was mixed. Waldscenen means 'Forest Scenes', and this was no nature trail but something much more haunted and goblin-ridden. The roiling virtuosity of the Piano Sonata No 2 earned a shout of 'Bravo!' at the end, but in truth it's a callow slab of twentysomething angst with the emotional depth of early Nirvana. Last came the seldom-heard Gesänge der Frühe, an unevenly-written late work, at its best a lovely, troubled dream, with major sevenths clanging against the octave like the twitching of a restless sleeper.

Unfortunately, the inevitable curtain calls all but strong-armed Uchida into the inevitable encores. I like the slow movement of Mozart's K330 as much as anyone, but after the unearthly beauty of the Schumann it had the effect of a kindly hug from a sensible aunt. The ritual triumphed, but the spell was broken.

Mitsuko Uchida

  • 4 stars

A poet of the piano, Mitsuko Uchida is famed for playing that matches elegance and poise with mercurial excitement. Her Festival recital combines gentle lyricism and explosive virtuosity. To begin, she contrasts two luminous Preludes and Fugues from the second book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier with Schoenberg’s…