Friday, 2 June 2017

Uchida and Haitink prove a massive hit

Mitsuko Uchida – musical genius
There are too few days and too few hours and two few minutes, of course, but having said all that, I don’t go to enough concerts.

It was 2008 when we managed to catch one of Daniel Barenboim’s cycle of Beethoven sonata concerts at the Royal Festival Hall.

As the music began, everything else simply disappeared: imagine being at the centre of a leap to warp speed in an episode of Star Trek. There was just Barenboim, his piano and me.

It was the most personal experience that I have ever had – and light years away from listening to any recording, no matter how good. It took Beethoven away from the polite academics and restored to him the passion and the fire that saw him build the bridge that led from the Classical period to the Romantic one.

Last night, at London’s Barbican, the experience was not much different, as the London Symphony Orchestra, with Bernard Haitink in charge and Mitsuko Uchida at the keyboard, gave us old Ludwig’s piano concerto 3 in C minor.

Penned in 1800, it was first performed in 1803 with the composer as soloist. In three movements – conventional at the time – but when it was premiered, the composer had barely sketched in the final stages of the final movement and played them from memory.

Thus it was an ‘unfinished’ work.

Here, Uchida gave us a performance of exquisite playing: firm and yet light of touch; music to set the nerves tingling; perfect phrasing and a glorious sense of the ebb and flow of the piece. And alike absolutely heaving with emotion.

The second movement in particular was simply sublime.

And the orchestra, with which I have been less than enthralled on previous occasions – not least during during Valery Gergiev’s time, as he actively wrecked his own reputation as some sort of conducting ‘great’ – was on very fine form under the vastly more restrained but powerful baton of Haitink.

At 88, there are no wasted gestures from the maestro. If he has to take it slow moving between podium and back stage, it is without doubt clear that he retains the knowledge and musical understanding of decades.

That really is the best that I have heard from the LSO – and that was a band that, during the second half, need a bunch of its horn players top switch to Wager tubas.

Bernard Haitink – musical genius
Note: they’re not really part of the tuba family but they are fabulous in tone.

Acoustically, incoming director Simon Rattle has supported a new concert venue for the capital and the LSO, on the grounds of the acoustics, being not great.

For the Beethoven, in my opinion, they were superb. For the Bruckner – one could tell he has a point ; certainly when a full-blown Romantic sound is required.

It was a really fine performance. This is big music. We have eight French horns that become four – and then four Wagner tubas (which are mis-named), but which, irrespective of name, have a fabulous richness of tone.

Bruckner, dying as he was, dedicated this work to God. Yet it has a sense of raging against the fading light, before the sweet and calm resolution with which we are left (this too was unfinished).

Fabulous stuff, certainly, though one could be forgiven for having a sense that the composer enjoyed a certain post-Wagner sense of creating ‘noise’ rather than ‘music’.

Not that that is bad under the circumstances, but it does suggest a dying of the romantic light.

Still, we are left with only one conclusion – that in such a venue, Beethoven, played by one of the world’s greats, sounds better than a lesser work.

And if you ever needed an incentive to get to a concert – take it from this. Because the experience is beyond what most get to know.

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