COMPOSERS: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart Piano Concertos
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 9 & 21
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Uchida (piano/direction); Cleveland Orchestra
CATALOGUE NO: 4783539
Subtlety that proclaims itself is not subtle enough; optimum subtlety goes unnoticed. The balance, however, is notoriously difficult to strike – never more so than in Mozart, and most particularly in his piano music. Artur Schnabel wasn’t just being clever when he described Mozart’s sonatas as ‘too easy for beginners, too difficult for artists’, but he might have rephrased the claim when talking about the concertos, the greatest of which are not easy for anybody.
The problems are not just technical, but conceptual. Mozart was perhaps the most pervasively operatic of all the great composers, and it would be easy to argue that all of his concertos are undercover operas, abounding in dialogues, arias, ensembles and psychological acuity. This is not to suggest that they require or reward self-conscious dramatisation – an easy temptation – but it does require the most astute characterisation and a mastery of musical conversation at its most sensitive and urbane. Schnabel took great joy in devoting his life to ‘music which is better than it can be played’, and Mitsuko Uchida has followed suit.
To say that she here avoids all of the above pitfalls is only to begin. Perhaps uniquely, she made her first international reputation in the music of Mozart, and has spent a lifetime unfussily shrinking the gap between the possible and the ideal. These are performances of enchanting grace, proportion and controlled vitality, replete with those twin Mozartian virtues ‘taste and feeling’, and the most invigorating and robust good health.