The juxtaposition of Mozart, Webern, Messiaen and Scriabin may have been a shock to some of Mitsuko Uchida's regular fans, but for those willing to embrace a challenge this CBSO: 2020 programme was intensely thrilling.
It began with Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra, a work often dismissed as an arid exercise in note-manipulation and orchestral pointillism. Andris Nelsons, however, is a conductor who always goes further, and here created a sound canvas so tantalisingly complex it seemed almost romantic in nature.
A lesser composer would probably have flogged such exquisitely short-lived material to death, which in a way is what Scriabin does in his gargantuan Poem of Ecstasy. Nelsons, though, went beyond Scriabin’s gushing Expressionism and big climaxes – all delivered by a supercharged orchestra in dazzling form – to explore the more subtle aspects of the score and its indebtedness to French impressionism.
His support for Mitsuko Uchida in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 was equally well considered, with elegant phrasing and a wide dynamic spectrum complementing the soloist’s crisp articulation and pellucid runs. Although in many ways a ‘polished jewel’ reading it was utterly transfixing, with an Andante of beautifully formed conversations between piano and woodwind, and a liberating finale so good you felt like squeaking with pleasure.
Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques offered a totally different side to the pianist’s talent, one in which colour and attack dominated. Nevertheless, despite the glittering cadenzas – especially the awesome fourth – it’s more of an expanded concertante role for the soloist. Mitsuko Uchida fulfilled it magnificently of course, at the end generously giving her bouquet to flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic to acknowledge the brilliance of all the players.