The venerated and much-awarded pianist Mitsuko Uchida awed a capacity crowd Monday night at Union College’s Memorial Chapel in the first of two concerts she’s giving this week as part of the Union College Concert Series.
The other concert is Saturday afternoon with German clarinetist Jorg Widmann.
Sporting gold shoes and playing her own Steinway grand that she had brought up from New York City, Uchida presented a program of works by Mozart, Schumann, and Widmann. In all the pieces, which were wonderfully played, she showed why her interpretations of the older composers’ works are so famous.
Besides the clarity of her technique, which was bolstered by exceptional pedal work, Uchida displayed a range of articulations, exceptional pacing, tonal colors, deep emotional commitment, and a wide and subtle range of dynamics.
Musically, she has enormous integrity. More happens between the notes in any one of her phrases than most other pianists. Melodies sang.
She began with Mozart’s Sonata in C Major, K. 545 (1788) – one of his most famous as it’s the one every piano student learns. But in Uchida’s hands, this was no student effort. Her tone was warmly mellow with tender levels of sound. She used no pedal. Nuances were strong, rhythms were precise with traditional tempos. The slow second movement was magical and the final Rondo had bounce.
Schumann’s “Kreisleriana (1838) contrasted. Supposedly, the inspiration for this work was an E.T.A. Hoffmann fantasy about a Johannes Kreisler and his cat Murr. Kitty’s movements must have been the lighter, playful, coy and daring ones. The other of the eight movements had big dramatic sound, rolling technical passages with passionate writing that went from wild highs to dark lows often in the bass. Uchida produced big, bold tones to fairy light textures.
Widmann’s “Sonatina facile” (2016) blended phrases from each of Mozart’s Sonata’s movements with excursions over the entire keyboard of dissonance, dynamic shifts, high drama or pointillistic transparency, chord clusters with bass grumbles. Uchida gave the piece her full attention and had fun.
Schumann’s “Fantasie in C major (1836-38) is considered a love letter to his future wife, Clara Wieck. The first movement is passionately dramatic, rapturous and expansive.
The second was a bold, energetic march and the finale built from a slow, soft song to an expansive chorale before retiring.
Uchida let the sound die away even as the cheers and loud applause began for a standing ovation. Slowly she stood to finally acknowledge the bravos. Her encore was the sweet “Andante cantabile” from Sonata in C Major, K330 (1783).