Mitsuko Uchida, Royal Festival Hall, London

Reviewed by Edward Seckerson
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The Independent Culture

Mitsuko Uchida loves to journey in her recitals; but it's the connections she makes on the way – intellectually, psychologically, emotionally – that throw up the most telling insights. Her signature Mozart is always a good place to start and in this instance the Rondo in A minor seemed literally to have been taken out of the air. The hushed melancholy of the theme, so deftly turned on graceful semiquavers, had nothing to do with fingers on keys or hammers on strings – rather, it levitated as if to suggest Mozart among the angels, and each return on this short journey brought renewed wonder and, more importantly, new departures.

Fast-forward, then, 160 years to a very different Vienna as Uchida made Viennese haiku of Webern's Variations, Op 27. One or two of them even sounded like shorthand Mozart, their cryptic poetry exquisitely rendered like sonic ephemera vibrating for that moment only.

Uchida had primed us more than we knew for the Beethoven which followed – Sonata in A, Op 101. How much richer and more mysterious its elemental colours now sounded, chords made cosmic by Uchida's infinitely subtle weighing and testing of them. This is a big piece and there was always a healthy awareness – respect, even – in her performance that the music could quite easily overwhelm and consume her. It did not: power without force was the overriding impression.

And Uchida's way with tension and release went on to enrich a quite magnificent Schumann's Fantasy in C. In a piece teetering between euphoria and contemplation, a clear understanding of the emotional narrative is critical. One felt that Uchida had taken us to that secret place in Schumann's troubled heart where feelings, like those expressed in the second idea of the first movement, were simply left hanging and unresolved. Just as the impassioned love song for Clara rashly and repeatedly swept all before it in the first movement, so the second movement march pointedly grew in confidence.

But more special still was the grave and inconsolable beauty of the third movement's "song without words". No words were necessary – the playing conveyed the deepest empathy. After which, the "non-encore" of a Schoenberg piano piece so tiny as to be almost non-existent, was like Uchida's way of saying: we've had sufficient.