Romantic Mozart with Uchida and Cleveland Orchestra

By Raymond Beegle
Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Cleveland Orchestra
Mitsuko Uchida, Piano and Conductor
William Preucil, Concertmaster and Leader
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 17
MOZART: Symphony No. 34 in C Major
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 25
Carnegie Hall
Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Cleveland Orchestra made clear tonight why there was no need for a conductor in Mozart’s time. With a few nods and flourishes from the first violinist, William Preucil, the ensemble delivered an impeccable performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 34. The texture was muscular, the blend seamless, the rhythmic thrust energetic, as the orchestra with a personality of its own, gave an elegant and handsome shape to the work.

A completely different atmosphere was in effect when Mitsuko Uchida floated on stage in golden shoes, pants, and a sleeved gossamer cape that moved like fairy wings in a Victorian nursery story. Her conducting from the piano consisted of dramatic upward thrusts, which set her wings flying, and horizontal sweeps of the arm, which set them fluttering. At times the left hand cued the orchestra while the right hand negotiated a trill. This rather surprising bit of show business might have its charm, but ultimately it was a distraction to the superb music that was simultaneously produced. In contrast to the forthright execution of the symphony, Uchida’s coy phrases rolled and trolled a bit in the style of Schumann, the slow sections were highly romanticized, and the cadenzas, possibly her own, were of a dreamy, rhapsodic nature. This distinguished pianist has been a consistent player throughout her career, and tonight was no exception. Every note seemed to obediently fall into place, the tone was glossy, the phrasing graceful. 

From an acoustical standpoint there were issues. It was difficult to judge the articulation of the piano’s sixteenth note passages because the cover was removed from the instrument causing the music to go upward rather than outward, which produced a swim of sound by the time it reached the listeners’ ears. 

There was much to be admired in Uchida’s approach to Mozart, but perhaps even more in the guileless, straightforward playing of the orchestra during the symphony. The audience seemed to be happy with both of them.