Mozart – Piano Concertos Nos. 23 & 24

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COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 24 in C minor, K491 & 23 in A, K488
PERFORMER: The Cleveland Orchestra/ Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 478 1524

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This will prove to be a controversial issue. Mitsuko Uchida’s Mozart has always been intensely personal, played – understandably – in an almost possessive way, as if she loves the music almost too much to bear sharing it. That is also true of her performances of some other composers, notably Schubert.

This is the first time I have heard her conduct and play Mozart concertos, and not with a chamber orchestra, but with what sounds, sometimes, like the full Cleveland Orchestra. In the great C minor Concerto, K491, the opening tutti rages with all the ferocity of middle-period Beethoven, and when the piano enters it is pleading, fragile.

For many people such extremes of characterisation will seem unidiomatic, but I’d beg them to keep an open mind and see whether, by the end of the first movement, and despite what I found a rather obtrusive cadenza by Uchida, they weren’t at least fascinated, and perhaps persuaded. The middle movement should present no problems. And I found the last, that series of mainly tormented and ever more convoluted variations, as powerful as any performance I have heard, though again it’s quirky. 

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The much sunnier A major Concerto, K488, is perhaps a less problematic piece to play. Uchida manages to avoid the almost unavoidable trap of too much affection, and in the slow movement rises to heights of eloquent grief that are demanded, but seldom risked. The last movement is gloriously abandoned. A pity that the recording is variable and oddly mellow, a live performance the sound of which has been tinkered with. Michael Tanner