Schumann: Mitsuko Uchida

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Schumann: Mitsuko Uchida
WORKS: Waldszenen, Op. 82; Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22; Gesänge der Frühe, Op. 133
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Uchida
CATALOGUE NO: 478 5393

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This is Mitsuko Uchida’s third Schumann disc, featuring some of his lesser-known piano works. She has said that he is the most difficult of composers to play, because he was no great pianist himself. Quite apart from that, it must be hard to know what to do with a movement that is directed to be played ‘as fast as possible’, followed a few pages later by ‘faster’ and a few after that by ‘faster still’. Those are the instructions for the second piece on the disc, the G minor Sonata (completed in 1838). It’s a passionate rhapsodic work, not of great distinction, but ardent. And Uchida’s technique is certainly up to any challenge.

The framing pieces are from very late in Schumann’s career, shortly before his final mental collapse in the 1850s. The first WaldszenenForest Scenes – of 1849 has three hunting movements, the third of which is strikingly like the Ride of the Valkyries, though neither Wagner nor Schumann could have known the other’s work. The last work, Gesänge der FrüheSongs of Dawn – is very late (from 1853), and though it has lovely things, it is not to be ranked with the greatest Schumann.

Uchida makes a strong case for works she clearly loves, but I found the overall impression of the recording rather depressing because for all the ardour of her advocacy, the programme does show a great composer in decline.

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Michael Tanner