WORKS: Piano Concerto; Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11; Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Uchida (piano); Cleveland Orchestra/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 468 033-2
Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto of 1942 is as approachable as any of the Bartók concertos, and has better tunes than at least the first two of those. Mitsuko Uchida has thought deeply about it, and in this superb account gives full weight to the work’s intimate mix of elegance and nightmare, tragedy and schmaltz. Boulez’s direction of the orchestral component, as we might expect, lays out every instrumental detail with supreme clarity, and the Cleveland Orchestra plays with a confidence that suggests long familiarity with the score; but this is above all an incisive, dynamic interpretation, unusually vital in rhythm. It stands high among the few existing recordings of the Schoenberg Concerto, but the work tends to be lucky on record, and I would still rate Brendel’s current (third) recording of this marvellous piece a few notches higher for understanding, intensity and expressive warmth.
Uchida plays the coupling selection of Second Viennese School solo piano music with much eloquence and insight. No other performer, I think, has brought out so clearly the parallels with contemporary Scriabin, not only in Berg’s Sonata but in the second piece of Schoenberg’s Op. 11. Webern’s Variations here sound almost Brahmsian, or maybe that’s my ears adjusting over the decades. Uchida’s Berg doesn’t quite match Glenn Gould’s stunning mono recording from 1958 (coupled on Sony with a more steely view of the Webern); in all the other solo repertoire Peter Hill’s budget-price release of the complete Second Viennese piano works remains supreme. But this is an important disc, in top-notch sound. Calum MacDonald