Uchida In Vienna, LSO St Luke's, London

Caught up in a Viennese whirl

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.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album