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Mozart: Piano Concertos No. 23, K488 & No.24, K491 CD

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product Description

Widely regarded as one of the foremost Mozart interpreters of our time: Mitsuko Uchida returns, conducting the orchestra herself from the piano, with live performances of two of Mozart's most popular concertos. Mozart entered the A major Concerto, K488 into his catalogue of works on March 2, 1786: A piano concerto. In the A major concerto, the meticulous accompaniment adds a softer, more intimate sound, which is also helped by the absences of festive trumpets and timpani. On March 24, 1786, Mozart entered the concerto in C minor, K491 in his catalogue. The piece calls for the largest orchestra that he ever used in a concerto: a flute, pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets; timpani and strings. The expressive opening movement is shaped with its dramatic leaps and its lamenting chromatic lines.


"Miss Uchida played gracefully and with the flair listeners have come to expect from her...She endows the solo line with a rightness and an inevitability, yet there is originality in the way she shapes every phrase, and remarkable subtlety in her coloration." -- New York Times

"We still had the thrill of Uchida, embodying Mozart's recollections of joy and sorrow with dancing subtlety and love." -- The Times, London
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Cleveland Orchestra
  • Conductor: Mitsuko Uchida
  • Composer: Mozart
  • Audio CD (September 8, 2009)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Decca
  • ASIN: B002GJ3MR6
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,658 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Decca has just released this disc of Mitsuko Ucida's excellent readings of Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 23 and 24 with The Cleveland Orchestra, but it doesn't surpass Uchida's earlier accounts from the 1980s conducted by Jeffrey Tate, available on Phillips. Perhaps it's because she takes the roles of both soloist and conductor in this new release, but I see no real improvement or advance in either execution or insights into the music here.

One example of this is in the first movement cadenza of the c minor concerto. Uchida's earlier version's cadenza is a minor masterpiece of Mozart-style piano writing and playing, and is quite exciting, but her new cadenza for the same movement is really not on the same level. It's certainly interesting, but it doesn't do anything as exciting as the earlier one. Perhaps it's a touch more Romantic, and so is the entire performance, with a much larger ensemble than either Tate, with the English Chamber Orch., or the great George Szell's classic account on Sony with Robert Cassadesues, which lists the orchestra as consisting of "members of The Cleveland Orchestra." This is massive and monumental Mozart on a large scale rather than intimate and classical. The playing (especially of the winds) is, naturally, excellent, but the size of the band is almost too big for this piece, and I find the playing a bit too smoothed over (Romantic) for Mozart. Tate got the accents better in his more striking realization for Uchida's earlier version.

There is also very fine wind playing here in the episodes of the slow movement (as there is in their earlier recording with Szell)and the chamber music textures deliver some wonderful give and take between instrumental choirs (winds and strings) and between winds and piano.
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I first found myself in complete agreement with the previous reviewer's balanced and intelligent assessment but subsequent listenings to this interesting and subtle disc have left me unsure. It is certainly not as light or playful as her earlier Philips versions and the emphasis in both concertos here is often more upon sombre introspection, yet Uchida has something profound and even slightly disturbing to say about this music, based on long acquaintance and reflection. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that she has (unbelievably) now entered her seventh decade of life. Speeds are measured and momentary, deliberate hesitations in the series of light fifth interval leaps following the entry of the piano in the opening of K491 underline the kind of metaphysical doubt pervading her interpretation. Although the "opera buffa" style conclusion to K488 is spritely and Uchida plays with all her customary elegance and charm, and although the piano sings under her delicate touch, an inescapable melancholy colours her every utterance. This is another way to play Mozart; if you require more insouciance and sparkle, look elsewhere, perhaps to Perahia, or even the excellent "Brilliant" bargain set of complete concertos played by Derek Han.

These two concertos are often thought of as a good contrasting pair, ideal for a live concert programme (such as that from which this recording is taken), but Uchida suggests that this that these characterisations are superficial and in particular undermines the supposed geniality of K488, reminding us that they were composed within a few weeks of each other in March 1786, while Mozart was simultaneously working on "The Marriage of Figaro".
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For several years now, distinguished pianist Mitsuko Uchida has developed a close collaboration with the Cleveland Orchestra in performing Mozart concertos. The particular appeal of these performances (some of them - such as this one - recorded to a substantial critical and public acclaim) resides in the fact that Uchida assumes the double role of conducting and playing the soloist part. This posture enables her to shape in a very personal vision the mozartean evergreens she interprets. The tempo, the airy phrasing, the refined rubato, even some unexpected accents she sprinkles here and there compound a valuable musical account, I dare say, a masterful one, for it receives that fresh and personal flavour that singles out the excellence.

Uchida's keyboard technique is amazing, and a sense of lightness occurs throughout. The C minor Concerto K 491 maybe is here less dramatic than usually, but its gracefulness is sharply highlighted. Poised and delicate, drama resurfaces through most playful utterances. The transparency of the melodic lines, the sad key of C minor, the soloist polished rigour - they all cont4ribute to voicing a masterpiece. It is paired on this recording by the celebrated A major concerto K 488, another unparalleled gem of the repertory. Its lyrical median part floats with a crystalline serenity under Uchida's fingers which prove themselves unfailingly playful in the final Allegro assai.

Don't hesitate to go with this Uchida recording. It stands on an equal footing with those of Brendel, Zacharias or Barenboim in the same repertory. As all these versions convey something very personal and yet seductively classical when it comes to Mozart, they could be considered as truly benchmarks in their own right.
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