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Festival Review: Mitsuko Uchida--2017 *****

Jo Turbitt reviews a brilliant performance, part of this year's Edinburgh International Festival.

An evening in the company of Mitsuko Uchida is an extremely well-spent evening indeed. She enters the stage with the stealth and Zen of a sensei, yet when she’s sat at the keys her fingers fizz like magic from the end of ten wands, and her physical response to the music echoes and sustains the notes. Uchida is very much at one with the piano, and she absolutely relishes playing. It was a joy to be there with her, sitting still in the world and allowing the music to wash over me, making me think ‘How often do we get the chance to stop, listen and fully appreciate music?!’

The concert was very cleverly planned, expertly placing each piece so that we are drawn further down a musical path with each piece, simultaneously taking you somewhere new while reminding you of where you’ve been. In fact, it didn’t feel like a concert in a huge grand hall: it felt like an intimate recital in her drawing room. Uchida played four gorgeous works, and with each it was if she was going us a tour of her own favourite collection.

In Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C major K545 it was as if the maestro was in the room. Uchida playing with gorgeous, fluid-like mercury and beautifully syncopated. The work is cheeky with sumptuous depth. Her playing was honest and responsive. The way Uchida played echoed Mozart’s style – he lets you in, she magnified this in her playing.

In Schumann’s Kreisleriana Op 16, Uchida’s playing was full of the juxtaposing colour of the score - light and shades of delicate yet deep watercolours set against big brassy colours. She made the piano sound like a symphony orchestra. Schumann’s score is peppered with hints of modern phrasing, discordant flavours, jazzy yet with quintessential classical chords layered with arpeggios. I’ve heard parts before, but have not fully listened or appreciated this gorgeous work before now.

With Jorg Widmann’s Sonatina Facile Uchida became the storyteller, relaying to us Widmann’s immense work based on the Mozart piece that opened the evening. Within it, Widmann captures the feverish undulating madness that consumed Mozart. Uchida transported us into Mozart’s mind: echoes of melodies, traces of the genius he was as he reached the tip of his genius, before tumbling over the edge. It was lonely yet friendly, extroverted introvert. Expertly brought to life at the tender fingers of our musical genius this evening.

Closing the evening with Schumann’s Fantasy in C major Op 17. We were swept up on a rollercoaster of pace, grace, energy and tranquillity. The score lulls us into a fantasy of suspended dream-like visions then brings us back to earth with a bump; heavenly melodies smacked out the way by contrasting deep dark chords. Schumann’s theatrical melodies shone from Uchida. It was absolutely joyous.

Sending us off into the night with what felt like a lullaby, Uchida played an encore which was like a heart-felt thank you; it was so intimate I felt like I was there, in her drawing room watching her play her absolute favourite piece. My thank you is to you Mitsuko Uchida, thank you for playing the piano like you do.

Part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. This was seen 21st August, 8pm. Usher Hall.

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