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CD Review

Franz Schubert

Piano Sonatas

  • Sonata #16 in A minor, D. 845
  • Sonata #9 in B Major, D. 575
Mitsuko Uchida, piano
Philips 462596-2 DDD 63:56
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This is part of Uchida's ongoing cycle of Schubert sonatas. While most of her reviews in this series and in other Schubert efforts, like the Impromptus, have been positive, there have been a few critics not entirely happy with some of her mannerisms, though even among them one would be hard pressed to find a genuinely negative notice. Personally, I never find Uchida's playing unpleasantly mannered in any way. She is the essence of taste and intelligence in this repertory. Her recent Beethoven Concerto cycle is further evidence of her consummate artistry.

Here she turns in splendid performances again, more than just splendid, actually. In the A minor she adroitly captures the profundities of the first movement with subtle tonal shadings, a seemingly perfect balancing of inner voices with the main line, and a fine sense for selecting her tempos. Her Andante is nicely phrased; her Scherzo has some real punch, and may be just slightly at odds with the views of Misha Donat, author this CD's notes, who finds Schubert's scherzos "more gentle than Beethoven's." Actually, I agree with Donat here, but also find Uchida's muscular way with the Scherzo fully convincing. The concluding Rondo is full of delights as Uchida's playing sparkles, deftly catching that Schubertian quirkiness, those quick changes of mood.

She is just as effective in the D. 575, a less intense but still powerful sonata. The pianist again enacts the contrasts with consummate skill, and delivers the jumpy first-movement alternate theme with a thoroughly joyous spirit. Her Andante is lovely and appropriately unsettling by turns, again showing her deft skill in handling the contrasting ideas. The Scherzo and finale are also sensitively rendered. Richter, Brendel and many others have turned in fine performances in this repertory, but if I had to pick a Schubert player to take to a desert island, Uchida would be my choice. In my opinion she ranks among the greatest living pianists, not least because of her consistency and great interpretive skills. Along with Kissin, Argerich, Brendel, and a few others, she is one of the great keyboard talents of the day. Philips provides excellent sound.

Copyright © 2000, Robert Cummings