CLASSICAL Mitsuko Uchida Philharmonia / Kurt Sanderling RFH, London

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The Independent Culture
Sunday's Royal Festival Hall presentation of Beethoven's First Piano Concerto and Bruckner's Third Symphony with Mitsuko Uchida and the Philharmonia under Kurt Sanderling was, in many respects, a vintage musical event. In the Concerto, Sanderling moulded a leisurely though acutely observed opening tutti, while Uchida looked on, arms folded, tensing visibly at each forte chord, then swaying ecstatically to the lyrical second subject (beautifully phrased by the Philharmonia strings). Her own entry was quietly confident and elegantly phrased. Dialogue with the orchestra was properly urgent, Uchida colouring, shaping and pressing her tone when necessary, Sanderling holding the pace firm, not unlike Otto Klemperer in his prime.

Beethoven's strongest ideas dominate the first movement's central development section, where musical argument intensifies and the need to project is correspondingly stronger. Generally speaking, Uchida went with the flow, engaging in rapt exchanges with the horns then, in the cadenza (Beethoven's own), recollecting "themes past" on the grandest possible scale. Still, I sensed that there were one or two passages where the most minor of miscalculations (the odd rushed fence, perhaps, or an untidy turn of phrase) made her slightly ill at ease, as if a painstakingly prepared plan had momentarily smudged and the opportunity to keep matters on course correspondingly aborted. Uchida is among the most fastidious of performers, habitually attentive both to musical structure and textural minutiae, and I would doubt that she suffers even tiny lapses gladly, her own least of all - even in the hairy context of a live concert. I could almost feel her disengage slightly during orchestral passages, pondering how best to get back on course. Was it just me? Somehow I doubt it.

The Largo second movement was a profoundly radiant statement, with eloquent colloquies involving piano and woodwinds and one of the most perfectly executed treble trills that I have ever heard. The Rondo finale was pert, well paced and youthfully conclusive, with Uchida fully on form and the octogenarian Sanderling responding to her at every gesture.

Throughout the concert, the Philharmonia gave their all: strings donned a warm, silky sheen, the woodwinds paraded plenty of variegated colour and the brass projected an unforced though powerful sonority that compared favourably with the Vienna Philharmonic, whom we had heard only a week or so earlier. The interval over, Uchida joined the audience to enjoy a wonderfully supple account of Bruckner's expansive Third Symphony, exalted in tone and as spontaneously flexible as any I've witnessed in recent years (the slowly blossoming Adagio was unforgettable). Sanderling commanded an impressive range of dynamics, from organ-like brass (magnificent horns) to the softest of string pianissimos. The Scherzo's trio lilted merrily, rather in the manner of Mahler, and the finale's excitable opening gave way to an especially affectionate account of the polka-style second subject. Granted, there was less of the finale than there might have been (the less-than-fashionable 1889 Nowak edition saw to that), but Sanderling's direction was so loving, so utterly inspired, that the whole confused business of editions and excisions temporarily ceased to matter.

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