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A Night for Romance and Comfort Food

Severance Hall
02/14/2011 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 27 in E minor, op. 90
Robert Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, op. 6
Frédéric Chopin: Prelude in C-sharp minor, op. 45 – Sonata No. 3 in B minor, op. 58

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)

M. Uchida (Courtesy of Severance Hall))

A longtime favorite of Cleveland audiences, renowned interpreter of music of the Romantic period, Mitsuko Uchida, was the perfect choice for Valentine’s evening recital. Severance Hall held a good crowd and there were a surprising number of youngsters in the audience. They were quiet, attentive and well-behaved, something that could not be said for many of their elders. Yes, it’s winter in a cold climate and illnesses happen, but certain rules of etiquette apply nonetheless, chief of which is to be polite to the rest of the audience and the performer. Coughing, choking, throat clearing, sneezing at full volume and the incessant unwrapping of cough drops is not considered accompaniment and adds nothing to the ambience of the evening and the fact that anyone can perform with grace and focus is remarkable. Twice during the concert, cell phones went off, and not just for one or two rings either. Audience members in the smallest town should know better; in a city like this, such things were unforgiveable. Dame Mitsuko (she was awarded the CBE in 2001) ignored the omnipresent sounds of impending plague, but the cell phones were too much. The first interruption came during a break between movements while the second was at the beginning of the encore, and she simply placed her hands in her lap and waited until the errant owners found and silenced their devices. Oddly, the section of seats on the stage itself was occupied by very quiet audience members, who were totally engrossed in the performance.

Ms.Mitsuko opened the concert on a high note with the Beethoven sonata. A bit unusual in that it only has two movements as opposed to the usual three or four, it is nonetheless lovely. She showcased the difference between the quick first movement with its piano to forte swings and the more lyrical second. The piece was totally engrossing and certainly left me wishing for more when it came to a close. Next came the lengthy Davidsbündlertänze, a series of eighteen pieces linked together by the composer’s alter egos, Florestan, the passionate and impetuous one and the quieter and more introverted Eusebius who each sign the pieces which best reflects their personality; both characters embrace numbers 1, 13, 15, 16, and 17. They range from brash and bold through mournful, wild and merry and winding down to jolly and then to middle of the road. It’s not an easy piece to pull off; its length and lack of definitive variation can lead to boredom in less skilled hands, but Ms.Mitsuko kept everyone’s interest by making a point of altering little things, such as her body posture to indicate the transition in the sections. After intermission, it was all Chopin, starting with the very brief Prelude in C-sharp minor. It’s really not much more than a series of left-hand arpeggio phrases with a few notes for the right-hand thrown in, but in a very careful way. It flows in waves of colored tonalities, then a brief repetition of the opening, until it ends on an open, hollow-sounding C-sharp minor chord. The longer sonata was the final piece of the night. This very traditional work seemed to go on too long, but not through any fault of the performer.

Dame Mitsuko is a consummate musician and she sticks to what she does well. This translates to wonderful recordings but can become just a bit tedious during longer recitals because there isn’t a lot of variation, which was the case here. Standing alone, the selections were fine, together as a two hour evening, it was rather like sitting down at a dinner party and being served nothing but a plateful of mashed potatoes. Even when made with the finest ingredients and prepared by a master chef, it can be too much of a good thing. Still and all, sometimes, comfort food is just what is needed to make things right!

Suzanne Torrey



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