EIF 2015 review: Mitsuko Uchida

First published in The Herald on 25 August, 2015

An Uchida recital builds a special kind of tension: every cough, every rogue ring tone seems to matter more. Any intrusion feels a calamity because the soundworlds she creates are so exquisitely conceived, so richly poetic. She summons symphonies and humble songs from the keyboard. This recital had enough pianistic colour to send me home happy after the opening eight bars alone.

The first half contained four Schubert Impromptus, the D899 set, in a performance of dark temper and deep compassion. Uchida’s left hand was notably weighty — those obsessive triplets, those angry octaves — but in a blink she would melt into warm melodies that cooed and soared. She gave all the time in the world to the solemn, loaded opening chords of the C Minor and fine-sculpted shape to the scurrying E-flat Major. She unveiled new jabs of dissonance in the G-flat Major and a corrugated edge in the fitful A-flat Major.

Beethoven’s vast and confounding Diabelli Variations filled the second half. Uchida’s performance charged onwards as if she was conducting herself: sharp intakes of breath defined the phrases of the chunky theme, and out of the variations she tugged sounds that were grotesque, crass, crazed and majestic. Her chorale in Variation 20 was mysterious and brooding; the intimacy of Variations 29-31 had great nobility. For me the most extraordinary moment came at the end of Variation 32, when the chords suddenly drain away as if there’s nothing left to say. Here Uchida took us to a very stark place, after which the flaws and inelegance of the closing minuet had a whole new dignity.