Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Davis/Uchida @ Barbican, London

22 February 2007

Mitsuko Uchida’s Mozart is a beast of mythical stature, and her performance of the Thirteenth Concerto at the Barbican was every bit as sublime as one could expect.

Though Uchida’s delicate touch, coupled with an expansive view of pedalling, can threaten to muffle rather than emphasise lines, the technique here bathed the music in effervescent warmth and Mozartian humanity.

Drama was also well catered for not one opportunity was lost to provide it, with Uchida showering the score with interpretative ideas and allowing her body to flow and contort in response to the score.

The light never fluffy tone, flawless phrasing and vast wealth of expression embraced every shape of the first movement. The Andante‘s eternal beauty was outstandingly conveyed, with Uchida finding kaleidoscopically coloured pianos in the instrument and projecting them up to the back row. And the Rondeau‘s intricate runs were not so much played as brushed off their dramatic propensity matching their technical security. The London Symphony Orchestra accompanied subtly under the baton of Sir Colin Davis, who more than most knows how to round a Mozartian phrase. It was, however, the pianist who won the applause.

Before this, Davis had led his former orchestra through an efficient performance of Beethoven’s Second Symphony, which replaced James MacMillan’s The Confession of Isobel Gowdie from the previous night. The slow opening used a couple of questionable instrumental balances, but the performance soon settled and provided much to enjoy. In the Larghetto, Davis relished both Classical purity and the stormy clouds of music’s approaching new era; the playful Trio was matched in thrills by the Allegro molto‘s dynamism. It was an oddly unmoving performance, but then few can make a completely convincing case for this most stylistically ambiguous of Beethoven symphonies.

Convince us, however, was what Davis did in a performance of Dvork’s Sixth Symphony. Architecturally superb, orchestrally outstanding and oh so exciting to watch. The work may have run to a lengthy 50 minutes, but time passed in a flash in the company of such majestic music-making. If Davis let the Allegro non tanto peak a fraction too early, the climax still excited, both for the ferocity of the playing and for its arrival after such malleable and pregnant preceding passages. The LSO’s blooming sound (especially from the first violins, who had trouble maintaining pitch in both of the previous items) was very much evident in the Adagio, where serenity and anguish vie for attention.

The drive of the Scherzo was uncannily persuasive; the Trio boasted a superbly played piccolo part. And the Finale let loose all the colours of the fair in this sparkling showpiece, with the Presto‘s immense double bass playing especially worthy of note. It made for an exciting finish to an often wondrous concert.

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