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CD Review

Wolfgang Mozart

  • Piano Concerto #18 in B Flat Major, K. 456
  • Piano Concerto #19 in F Major, K. 459
Mitsuko Uchida, piano
Cleveland Orchestra/Mitsuko Uchida
Decca Classics 4786763 60:48
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Mitsuko Uchida's admirable Mozart playing in her complete concerto cycle for Phillips was hampered by indifferent playing and conducting by the English Chamber Orchestra under Maestro Jeffery Tate. Her ongoing project for Decca has featured the incomparable support of the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by the pianist herself. Like Decca 4781524, the qualities that we expect from the artists involved are all here. Cleveland's chamber-like sectional balances and witty orchestral exchanges remain intact some 40-plus years after the death of George Szell. And Mitsuko Uchida's advanced age and somewhat frail-looking form belie a musical force that makes these pieces her own. This is the fourth (and so far final) installment in this series, and each testifies to this.

Sometimes Uchida isn't the most incisive conductor in the world, but you can't help but admire how much more interestingly she shapes the music as opposed to Tate. Fine as the English Chamber Orchestra is as an ensemble, they can't compete with the tart and supremely classy wind soloists in Cleveland. The dialog between soloist and orchestra harks back to Szell's surprisingly cordial and entirely successful readings with Rudolf Serkin and Robert Casadesus years earlier. The Piano Concerto #19 opens the disc, and is given a wonderful reading. The whole work seems to fly by, and seems to be an unbroken musical arch. Tempos are swift without ever feeling overly fast, dynamics are careful without ever feeling micromanaged. Indeed, what we have here is basically a disc of Mozart chamber music in orchestral form.

Like Clara Haskil before her, Uchida's supposed physical delicacy means nothing when passages are played with such uncommon strength and elan. She rips into the short cadenzas on this disc with relish and delight, while elsewhere her customary elegance and poise serves this music very well. On the whole, I like the Concerto #19 better than this account of #18. I find the former work more crisp and clear. That might have something to do with the recordings, which are generally fine sounding live takes from April 2014. Despite this, there is so much to admire here that I feel any serious collector should hear what Uchida can do with this music flying solo. Whether this project will continue is anyone's guess, but if this is all we get, we can be very thankful for these four outstanding discs of Mozart concertos

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman