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Mozart Piano Concertos 13 & 20

Camerata Salzburg/Mitsuko Uchida on DVD
Documentary feature "I'll play Bach when I'm seventy"

Deutsche Grammophon 00440 073 4129

We don't collect orchestral concerts on DVD regularly, though it is useful to see conductors and soloists briefly; video directors are obliged to repeat images which often distract from listening, and that applies to some star conductors!

Best visual value on DVD comes in our experience from ballet and dance, which hold viewers' concentration moment to moment; next, some opera filming, though in historic productions, with principals who may not be photogenic in close up or engaged for their acting ability, allowances have to be made, and the eye may best be allowed to wander...

This, though, is a greatly enjoyable DVD of two Mozart concertos, K. 415 (387b) and K.466. But a warning and suggestion first before you start viewing it. You might be disconcerted if you watch Mitsuko Uchida conduct the ritornello which opens the earlier concerto. Her facial expressions are, against normal expectation, over the top.

But see the documentary first and you will certainly warm to her. Astonishingly fluent in German equally as in English, this erudite multi-lingual Japanese-born pianist is dedicated to this composer, one of her chief favourites (others include Schoenberg!).

When young Uchida played and recorded all the Mozart sonatas at a time when they were underrated and only a few regularly performed. Her absorption is reflected in her appearance, and everything she talks about is of riveting interest and well worth hearing. Her enthusiasm is carried over into her facial expressions and body language when she plays. It has to be said that the orchestral players scarcely ever appear to look at her (the work must have been done thoroughly in rehearsal) and the audience behind can only watch her back. Some flamboyant conductors compensate for that, and conduct 'for the camera', but this is clearly not the case here.

The booklet notes, as is increasingly a fashion, provide no analyses of the works themselves. The star performer is what sells. But Jeremy Siepman does tell us, helpfully, that Uchida is 'a blend of conservatism, imagination and daring', and this exploratory approach certainly comes through. She is, he says, 'scholarly without scholasticism - musicologically highly informed'. The keyboard collection in her studio contains 18th- and 19th-C pianos and she has not ruled out public performances on period pianos (c.p. review of Lars Vogt's recent London recital).

The result here is a balanced approach to the concertos, intense, rhythmically vivid and exciting, piano well balanced with the small Salzburg orchestra, which know its Mozart inside out. There is no exaggeration, nothing in the sounds emerging from the modern Steinway to ruffle purist feathers. The DVD is one to return to, but I look forward to hearing Uchida on historic pianos before too long; she will belie the too firmly held prejudices of the doubters!

See Musical Pointers' discussions of "fortepiano" in many reviews and articles.


© Peter Grahame Woolf