COMPOSERS: Beethoven; Strauss
ALBUM TITLE: Mariss Jansons Conducts Beethoven & Strauss
WORKS: Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3; plus encore; Strauss: Ein Heldenleben
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Uchida (piano); Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 101683
Mitsuko Uchida is the incisive pianist in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, her firmness and clarity of articulation ideal, every phrase beautifully shaped as well as placed carefully within the larger context of each movement as a whole. Her observation of the music’s character is finely supported by Mariss Jansons in an expert piece of accompanying. Video director Brian Large captures his use of facial expression, as well as his clear, spare gestures – none of which is redundant. Filmed mostly from the right-hand side of the keyboard, Uchida’s fingerwork is amply displayed in profile. As an encore, she gives a characteristically scrupulous account of the Sarabande from Bach’s French Suite in G major.
Richard Strauss’s symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben (whose title Thomas Beecham used to translate as ‘A Helluva Life’) has come in for criticism over the years for its supposed megalomania, but in reality Strauss’s tongue is so firmly in his cheek in this portrait of the artist as hero that self-irony overcomes charges of pomposity. Jansons is inclined, perhaps, to underplay slightly the more outrageous aspects of Strauss’s hyper-lavish scoring, including its cacophonous calumny on music critics, but the stability and expansiveness of the sonic fabric he draws from his players more than makes up for it.
There’s sharper detail in the Blu-ray version of this programme of two works recorded live at the Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich, in 2011, but so intelligently focused is Brian Large’s video direction that all essentials are encompassed in either edition.