Monday, November 24, 2008

Review: Mitsuko and Mozart

Last night I went to see the world acclaimed interpreter of Mozart, Mitsuko Uchida perform with the London Philharmonia. The program consisted of two Mozart piano concertos, No. 22 in A major and No. 24 in C minor, preceded by Igor Stravinsky's Apollon Musag├Ęte. What a pleasure it was to hear the dark and quirky yet less bold work of Stravinsky against the sublime and transcending musical perfection of Mozart!

Well, let's start with Apollon. I really enjoyed this performance. Originally a ballet in two scenes, the production is accompanied by strings only. It’s about the Greek god Apollo and 3 muses. Stravinsky achieves a great range of texture, though and this colour was accentuated masterfully by the ensemble's synergy. I reckon' the best way I would describe the effect of the music, was that it was transfixing. Sometimes I didn't quite know what was really happening, but I listened intently anyway! I think the violins needed to have some more guts when approaching dissonance. Sounds a bit harsh, but it wasn't that bad.

My only major complaint has nothing to do with the orchestra. At the beginning of the performance, we had the usual announcement say "please turn off phones, blah blah" (I think it was Ian McKellen) and then at the end was added, "and please, keep coughing to a minimum". Everyone had a giggle, but after the first break between movements, I could see why it was announced. The orchestra could not make a louder sound than the fortissimo coughing fit that erupted in the Royal Festival Hall. I mean, it was ridiculous. I understand that it's London, the weather is crappy, and everyone rides the Tube (which is like a cylinder of germs), but I CANNOT grasp how that many people with tickly throats, flu or the pneumonic plague can forget to bring a bottle of water or a cough drop!!!!! You might say, "Hang on Matt, at least they weren't coughing during the pieces"...

To me, in most works, the silence or space in between movements is part of the work. I use that space to absorb what has just happened, or maybe I won't be allowed to, for now, and the orchestra will just charge on. However, it's extremely hard to create that suspenseful or serene effect, when you have a symphony of irritated throats hacking away, or.....I'm going to say it.... a cacoughony.

Anyway, rant over. The piece was excellent and it was a nice choice to start the concert with that.

I'm going to kinda lump the two Mozart concertos together in this next bit, and look at Ms. Uchida's performance overall, because I fear this review is getting too long.

I should start by saying that the Concerto K. 491 in C minor is my favourite piano concerto of all time, and definitely one of my top pieces overall. So I came into this concert with high excitement, high hopes and from Highbury and Islington. I'm pleased to say that I was so very, very satisfied. I love the Concerto in A major (K. 488) also and studied it a couple of times in Uni (studied, not played).

Mitsuko Uchida has been called the 'high priestess of Mozart' by many critics, and I can totally back that up. Uchida brings this wonderful kind of blissful elegance to Mozart. This is not all she brings though - try a bit of passion, fury and majesty on for size.

Uchida played the solo and directed the orchestra, just like old mate Amadeus used to do. I love this, and it is so inspiring to watch. Sometimes I thought there was unnecessary conducting in there, but it never really hindered Mitsuko's performance.

I have to say that Uchida has a gorgeous conducting style that is quite feminine. It's almost like dancing at times. When I say feminine, I mean it is something that a bloke couldn't pull off. Except Jackson (I can say that because I know he probably won't read this far).

Never having seen this work (K. 491) performed live, this was a really special treat for me. To hear things like the clarinet arpeggios, the flute mimicking the piano, the strings swaying and sweeping and an UNBELIEVABLE piano cadenza (please, someone tell me who wrote it) was heightened by the fact that I could see and feel it too. Bloody awesome!!

I'm going to leave it there, because I've rambled on for too long, but honestly, I could talk to you about this concert for houuuuurs.

If you haven't ever heard the 24th Piano Concerto, please listen to it sometime. Even if you don't like classical music, I would like to think that this is a piece that would make you appreciate the genre on a different level.

For recordings, you could listen to oh, I dunno....MITSUKO UCHIDA. Also Geza Anda is wonderful. Check it out.

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