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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Concert Review: There is Nothing like a Dame

Mitsuko Uchida at Carnegie Hall

Even Knight Commanders have a sense of humor: Dame Mitsuko Uchida.
The acclaimed concert pianist Dame Mitsuko Uchida made a triumphant appearance at Carnegie Hall on Friday night. The program: a celebration of the pianistic innovations of Beethoven, Schumann, and Chopin. Although these are three familiar composers, Ms. Uchida's interpretation made these familiar works sound cutting-edge.

For two hours, Ms. Uchida (currently touring to promote a CD of Schumann recordings) enthralled the capacity audience, which included last-minute audience seating on the famed Carnegie stage. Throughout, she played these Romantic works with a delicate, neo-classical approach, leaning on the pedal and brushing the keys with a gossamer touch.

On her previous visit to Carnegie Hall, Ms. Uchida played the last three Beethoven sonatas. For this concert, she chose No. 27, the two-movement E minor sonata, which stands on the cusp between the composer's 'heroic' middle period and the experimentation of his last years. Hers was a fresh interpretation, playing Beethoven's passages with a gentle, flowing legato Even though she bareley seemed to move her hands, a shower of silver sounds poured forth.

Robert Schumann's Davidsbündlertanze (Dances of the Group of David) chronicle the internal struggle between Schumann's two writing aliases: Florestan and Eusubius. Ms. Uchida played the "Florestan" pieces with playful aggression, attacking the fast tempos with zeal. The more sedate "Eusebius" works were more reflective, with her trademark, limpid approach to the music. As the two "voices" alternated throughout the 18 dances, a fascinating internal argument developed, allowing the listener to almost hear Schumann's subconscious thoughts.

The second half of the evening opened with the rarely played Prelude in C Sharp Minor by Frederic Chopin. This is one of Chopin's most groundbreaking compositions: a complex, amorphous little piece with only hints of melody in its shifting tonality. It served as a true prelude, to the Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, the last, and most popular of that composer's entries in the genre.

Once again, legato and an emphasis on the lyricism in Chopin's writing governed Ms. Uchida's performance of the heroic first movement. The brief scherzo was enchanting, a miniature masterpiece. She stretched out the tempo in the Andante, taking a languid tour through Chopin's imagination. The final Rondo was played at dizzying speed, nearly slipping in one of the pell-mell runs down the keyboard. The encore was Schumann's "Aveu" from Carnival and the Andante from Mozart's Sonata No. 15 in C Major, played with liquid grace.

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