Uchida does a Steinway hat trick with CSO

Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 1:32 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Mitsuko Uchida performed music of Mozart and Schubert with the CSO Thursday night. Photo: Priska Ketterer
Mitsuko Uchida performed music of Mozart and Schubert with the CSO Thursday night. Photo: Priska Ketterer

Mitsuko Uchida’s annual appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are welcome by Mozartians for her sparkling concerto performances. She will perform the Schumann concerto with Riccardo Muti next week as well, but Thursday’s unorthodox genre-traversing program also showcased her as chamber musician and solo instrumentalist.

The evening led off with Mozart’s Adagio in B minor. This late work is one of Mozart’s concise piano masterpieces, a ten-minute darkly introspective work with shadings of tragedy. Uchida drew us in with her hushed, interior playing, performing with natural eloquence and a poised, finely graded degree of inward expression.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19 is among the composer’s happiest creations, from the perky march-like theme of the opening movement to the brilliant buffa finale, one of the most irresistible creations in the repertory.

Conducting from the keyboard as usual, Uchida delivered a fleet and delightful performance. At times her animated direction elicited less-than-precise orchestral accompaniment, and one wished the flute and oboe principals were on hand to provide wind solos of greater gleam and impact. Uchida was a largely polished and nimble soloist, easing into the relaxed lyricism of the Allegretto sensitively and throwing off the bravura finale with speed and elan.

Part of the CSO’s ongoing Schubert series this season, the second half was given over to Schubert’s beloved “Trout” Quintet, a rare chamber performance on the regular CSO schedule. Even by Schubert’s fecund standard, the Quintet overflows with a bounteous wealth of characteristic melody across five movements. Uchida was joined by four CSO principals (concertmaster Robert Chen, violist Charles Pickler, cellist John Sharp and double-bass Alexander Hanna).

There were fleeting digital slips by Uchida in the Mozart and more lapses here. Yet the pianist was clearly primus inter pares, with her sparkling, personality-plus keyboard work, fully attuned to Schubert’s cheerful music.

Yet the performance emerged mixed for a couple reasons. The 1997 Orchestra Hall renovation proved disastrous for upper string frequencies–less noticeable with a full string section but grievous in chamber music, bleaching solo strings of shimmer and color.

The Scherzo went with fine vigor and the performance was at its best in the variations of the title song (Die forelle) with the wide-ranging iterations receiving characterful playing. Robert Chen’s silvery violin tone and judicious vibrato had just the right Viennese sensibility.

Yet otherwise the performance seemed like a work in progress with tasteful, polished string playing that was too often short of individuality and spark. The first two movements and finale ambled along amiably but rather blandly. There was a Rococo feel to the music-making that made the Quintet feel like one of Mozart’s chamber reductions of his piano concertos, missing the earthy, rustic good cheer of Schubert’s music.

The program will be repeated 1:30 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. cso.org; 312-294-3000.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Uchida does a Steinway hat trick with CSO”

  1. Posted Mar 18, 2014 at 1:50 pm by judy perlman

    Perfect review!!! This was EXACTLY as I heard the concert!! Compliments richly deserved, criticisms also. We loved listening to the bass player, but the strings had such a thin sound — not the passionate Trout we love, but as you say, like a watered down Mozart. “Earthy, rustic good cheer!” Uchida’s Mozart Adagio was so moving, so delicate and subtle. You are a great reviewer; thanks!

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