Classical review: Christian Blackshaw, Wigmore Hall / Uchida, Ticciati, LSO, Barbican London


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The Independent Culture

Christian Blackshaw occupies a unique niche on the piano circuit. His brilliant early career was powered by the ability, which he had absorbed from his great mentor Clifford Curzon, to make every note sing. His wife’s illness then took him out of the game, which he has now re-entered.

The connoisseurs whom his performances attract will have savoured his trademark hand-hovering over the keyboard, before he launched into Schubert’s “Piano Sonata in A minor D784” at the Wigmore, and with the first phrase they were taken somewhere special: it had a dreamy, silken calm, preparing the ground for its fortissimo restatement in stark octaves. Yet even those octaves had richness.

In the first movement’s alternation of peaceful stretches and outbursts of ferocity, one had the impression of a panther poised then pouncing on its prey. The way the development section caught fire and roamed into remote keys was flawlessly done, as were the dramatic contrasts in the Andante. Alfred Brendel’s likening of the Scherzo to a dance of death was never better exemplified than here.

It’s no shame to Blackshaw that the second work in his programme, Schumann’s “Fantasie in C Opus 17”, failed to hit the mark with comparable accuracy. He can play the notes, but he never seems comfortable with the showy virtuosity of high-Romantic music. Although he invested the finale with visionary force, one was left with the feeling that a man whose pianism is a quintessentially fine-grained affair might be wise to accept that Schumann is just not his thing.

Playing Mozart at the Barbican, Mitsuko Uchida was on her home turf, and – an idea which other musicians might like to take up – she got her encore in first. As she explained in a programme note, Sir Colin Davis once asked her to play him Mozart’s A minor Rondo, a favourite piece. “I was unprepared and played it badly,” she wrote. “So I want to play it for him once more, better prepared.” Listening from the heavens, that conductor must have been well-pleased with her delicately-shaded account, in which a gamut of conflicting passions was woven into one serene stream of melody.

Then, joined by the London Symphony Orchestra, she brought springtime freshness to a work she had often played with Davis, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 17. Robin Ticciati’s conducting is not yet in the same league as Davis’s, but he’s coming along nicely.