The way Mitsuko Uchida and her friends from the Berlin Philharmonic played it, the opening of Berg’s Adagio from his Chamber Concerto came serenely over, with violin, clarinet, and piano tracing delicate patterns round each other as though weaving a mystery for us to unravel.
And mystery was indeed the word, with Berg generating a form pervaded by threes, inserting cunning references to the composer-trinity of which he formed part, and suggesting both the lurid tragedy which had struck his mentor Schoenberg’s marriage and also a symbolic abolition of that tragedy, by putting a whole movement literally into reverse.
But we needed to know none of this to appreciate the beauty of the work and of its performance, and it made a perfect foil for Schubert’s Notturno in E flat which followed: making its effects with expansive grace, that wistful, dreamy piece here gave no hint of the fact that its composer had written it virtually on his deathbed.
Concluding with Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Uchida’s colleagues repeatedly took the breath away with their discreet virtuosity. Ludwig Quandt’s cello created a hypnotic stillness, Wenzel Fuchs’s clarinet found ravishing extremes of pianissimo, and Daishin Kashimoto’s burningly expressive violin took us finally into the empyrean.