200th-birthday boys Schumann and Chopin were celebrated in Mitsuko Uchida’s absorbing recital to a packed Symphony Hall on Sunday afternoon, the former represented by a rarity, the latter by one of his greatest and most renowned masterpieces.
Despite my being nuts about Schumann, warts and all, his Gesange der Fruhe, five little pieces evoking pre-sunrise sensations, were new to me.
Their textures are often complex and dense, elsewhere chorale-like, and often with a strong sense of fantasy. Uchida’s performance probed right into the heart of these disturbing insights into the tortured mind of the composer just months before he attempted suicide by jumping into the Rhine, thereafter spending the rest of his life in a mental institution.
Chopin’s B minor Piano Sonata was magisterially given: rhetorical, proud, poetic, with at its heart a ruminative Largo in which Uchida seemed to stop the world.
Her first half was all-Beethoven, with the lovely little E minor Sonata, urgency moving towards gentle lyricism, and the ubiquitous Moonlight, refreshed here by Uchida’s otherwordly control over shimmeringly quiet dynamics and then a thunderous finale.
Oriental unflappability was much needed for the beginnings of both these pieces, when stewarding issues meant latecomers and a squalling baby threatened to disrupt proceedings.