Uchida In Vienna, LSO St Luke's, London
Caught up in a Viennese whirl
Monday 13 March 2006
Who can deny that technical standards have risen astronomically in the last 30 years - but musical ones? Public acclaim is still too often based on the ability to get the notes right, in the right place, usually at breakneck speed. Sheer musical intelligence of interpretation is frequently the loser. Playing to the gallery is much more fun. But not for Mitsuko Uchida.
The third of the ongoing Barbican series "in tribute to the artistry of Mitsuko Uchida" was held not in the cavernous expanse of the Barbican concert hall, but in the exquisite, but tiny, LSO St Luke's. Chamber music is what Uchida had decided to play. Music from Viennese-based composers made up the programme, the old (Schubert) providing a telling foil for the new (Schoenberg and Berg).
Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire (1912) and Berg's Lyric Suite are arguably the greatest chamber works of each composer. In dramatic and musical terms, the programme needed to begin with the later work. Written more than a dozen years after the Schoenberg, Lyric Suite as played by the Brentano Quartet came over, completely naturally, as an obvious continuation of late-19th century Romanticism. Although it was his first major work to use the 12-tone technique or serialism as developed by his teacher Schoenberg, Berg's richness of harmony belies the exclusion of tonality. Here was music being made, the listener taken by the ears into the inherent beauty of the piece, regardless of any era. The homogeneity of approach - balance, gesture, stroke - between the players was extraordinary; the tenderness, fluency, dynamic control and architectural sense exceptional.
Following this with Schubert's late Four Impromptus for solo piano was masterly programming. After the intensity of Berg, Uchida began the C minor Impromptu with such simplicity, only to build the insistent, repeated notes with a quietness and determination scarily reminiscent of Schubert's great "Erlkönig". And in the E flat and A flat Impromptus, she positively poured out the rippling notes, relishing Schubert's harmonic "strangenesses", and giving the final Impromptu the spaciousness of Beethoven.
According to a frosty letter from Schoenberg to Varèse, Pierrot Lunaire received 100 rehearsals before its first performance. While it seems doubtful that Uchida - joined by Mark Steinberg (violin/viola) and Nina Maria Lee (cello) of the Brentano, with Marina Piccinini (flute), Anthony McGill (clarinet) and the fabulous Barbara Sukowa (billed as Narrator) - enjoyed a fraction of these rehearsals, the result was breathtaking - the more so because Sukowa performed without a score and with no conductor.
Sukowa is an actress, her voice is husky, and this was melodrama to be marvelled at. She made little attempt to "follow" the pitches indicated in the score, but her narration adhered to Schoenberg's speech rhythms with considerable accuracy; she knows this piece backwards.
With this dream team, and despite Sukowa's charismatic delivery, only the language (German) proved any obstacle - Schoenberg once exhorted an American conductor to perform it in English. Uchida was first among equals, as any great musician should be. Schoenberg without fear.
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Autistic adults could take pure MDMA to 'reduce social anxiety'
- 2 Natalie Portman tells Harvard graduates: 'Accept your lack of knowledge'
- 3 Before you complain about your GP, this is what you need to know about actually doing the job
- 4 Father of 12 accused of raping, beating, starving and abusing his own children in US 'cult'
- 5 Charlie Charlie Challenge explained: not a Mexican demon being summoned — it's gravity
Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
Grace of Monaco film panned: Screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman as movie gets US debut
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Suicide Squad: Leaked footage shows first look at Batmobile chasing Joker through city streets
ASAP Rocky sparks outrage with misogynistic lyrics about Rita Ora in new song 'Better Things'
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote