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Notes and Editorial Reviews
An all-round achievement that will not quickly be surpassed, one that will occupy a place in the catalog as one of the best Mozart concerto recordings of its day.
The second of the series of Mozart concerto recordings Mitsuko Uchida is making with the English Chamber Orchestra and Jeffrey Tate brings us another pairing of works which are chronologically adjacent. The scheme looks set to work rather well. The conjunction of K482 and K488, the first two of Mozart's concertos to include a pair of clarinets instead of oboes, is particularly rich and stimulating—for the contrasts, perhaps, rather than the similarities—and I've had excellent listening from this new Philips CD, which I've compared with the two previous CDs to
offer these concertos together, those of Alicia de Larrocha (Decca) and Christian Zacharias (EMI). Perahia's version of the E fiat Concerto K482 has also just arrived on CD from CBS with an equally well chosen complement, the C minor K491, the other great concerto of 1786 to be scored with clarinets.
The ECO, playing for both Uchida and Perahia, are a joy to meet again on Philips, with many of the same wind principals. There is fine playing from the Staatskapelle, Dresden and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra too, but Mozart's requirements of the wind as soloists as well as a chorus in the E flat Concerto are, I think, met with a superior distinction by the EGO. The players come forward and impress you that they perform with a little more presence. And the balance on the new Philips, which places the piano within the texture rather than way out in front, allows them to do so with an even more delightful naturalness than in CBS's recording for Perahia. On the Philips the piano is a little less dominant. This is how Uchida and Tate wanted it and the balance of sound is a distinctive feature of the recording. 1 have come to like it very much. Do parts of the first movement of the E flat sound more like something with piano obbligato, I wondered at first, or a sinfonia concertanle rather than a piano concerto? I had a few doubts but they have not persisted. For me, the recording is well balanced and the picture it gives of these two great pieces entirely convincing.
A doubt that does remain is whether Uchida brings to the first movement of K482 enough variety of weight. Its richness of melodic incident she characterizes well, but I think a case might be made for a stronger projection of its surprises. The flow is admirable but I should have welcomed just a little more air and, here and there, even a touch of poetic licence—for example, at the point in the soloist's exposition where the piano plunges into B flat minor; or at the beginning of the development, where the soloist, entering again, extends the orchestra's closing theme and toys with our curiosity as to how the development is to proceed. The B flat minor incident is a most unexpected dramatic gesture; the other, a passage of caprice. They are examples of what Erik Smith describes in the booklet as "the loosening of formal patterns" to be observed in Mozart's work at this time, and I wish they had been given a little more time and a bolder treatment than they're accorded here. In this respect Alicia de Larrocha's version is enjoyable, Zacharias's too—both pianists firmly in control of continuity but letting this movement unfold on a slightly freer rein. Unfortunately Larrocha becomes less interesting from the recapitulation on. Zacharias's boldness goes as far as including the wind in his cadenza, which is a lovely idea. I have enjoyed listening to him in Mozart concertos this month far more than in his current EMI series of the sonatas.
More spaciousness, then, in this movement might have been wished for from Uchida, and maybe a more assertive leading of some of the discourse. But how beautifully she plays, and with what freshness and sensibility. In the rest ofK482, and throughout the more intimate K488, the ease with which she releases and projects the expression is a delight. One wants to hear magic communicated in this music and it is there. After the slow movements I like very much the daylight and brio she brings to the finales, as if to test the reality of the sublime visions which have gone before. This is some of the best playing of Mozart we have had on records recently, not inferior to Perahia's, and if I had to make a choice between them in K482 1 think I would prefer hers. He fills out the slow movement with a wider dynamic range than she, and in the finale I would rather have his lead-in to the interpolated Minuet and his decorations (Wanda Landowska's) to the Minuet itself; hers (based on Landowska's) strike me as slightly too frilly. But then, later on, I'm impatient with his discursive cadenza (based on Hummel's), while hers is shorter and just the job. Perahia plays a version of Hummel's cadenza in the first movement too, and you may agree that it's all of a piece with his neutral and rather under-ripe characterization of this movement as a whole.
The C minor Concerto was one of the first to be recorded in his Mozart series, more than a decade 298 ago. On CD it comes up quite well, though viewed in the light of his achievements of today the playing seems rather small: exquisite but lacking in range. Of the younger generation of Mozart players that is a criticism which could perhaps be made not infrequently. They play beautifully but after a while with their records the thought occurs that they need to live a bit longer. What demands one makes!
Let me, in conclusion, be entirely positive. For a recording of K482 and K488, do not hesitate: buy this new one. It is an all-round achievement that will not quickly be surpassed—better, I think, than the first issue in the Uchida/Tate series, of the D minor and C major Concertos, K466 and K467 (416 381-IPH; (D 416 381-2PH, 7/86). I've no doubt it will occupy a place in the catalogue as one of the best Mozart concerto recordings of our day. When I listen to the colour and distinction Jeffrey Tate brings to these works I feel surer still of that. In concertos it is the pianist who must make the running, of course, but it is not many in Mozart who get a collaborator of such calibre.
-- Gramophone [8/1987]
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 23 in A major, K 488 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mitsuko Uchida (Piano)
English Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Mozart - always subjective preferences I suppose January 25, 2014
By Peter Lever (Cape Town, South Africa) See All My Reviews
"There are now several fine Mozart interpreters and Uchida is one of them - perhaps this is why she took over as a joint Director of the Marlboro Festival / summer school after the death of Rudolf Serkin in 1991. In the slow movement of K482 it would be interesting to compare her version with his 1985 recording with Abbado/LSO when he was 82 so well past his prime in terms of nimbleness of fingers - this is a good example of letting the music breathe which is her weakness here."