Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Uchida review – immaculate yet routine

Royal Festival Hall, London
The pedigree pairing of orchestra and pianist brought beautiful moments to these Mozart concertos, but felt uninvolving

It was its close relationship with founding conductor Claudio Abbado that defined the ethos of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra – as a group of outstanding, like-minded instrumentalists who perform everything with the intimacy and subtlety of chamber music. Since Abbado’s death the orchestra has cultivated equally close relationships with other conductors and soloists, among them Mitsuko Uchida, with whom they have collaborated on a series of Mozart piano concertos. Their latest tour together pairs the F major concerto K459 with the D minor K466, separating them with the string-orchestra arrangement of three movements from Berg’s Lyric Suite.

It ought to be an ideal match – a pianist of impeccable Mozartean credentials and an orchestra of acute sensitivity and musical awareness; the buoyancy of the string textures, defined in the taut springy rhythms of the opening tutti of the F major work, combined with the tangy individualism of the woodwind, suggested the perfect canvas for Uchida’s artistry. There was much about the performances to admire and enjoy, but though everything was immaculate, it seemed to be uninvolving – high-class routine rather than fresh-minted creative music-making.

Uchida was nominally conducting the concertos from the keyboard, though in fact her direction was more generalised than specific, and her liberal use of the soft pedal on her Steinway, even for the piano’s very first entry in the F major concerto, cast a veil over too much of the solo playing, robbing it of immediacy. Of course there were beautiful moments – the unaccompanied opening of the slow movement of the D minor concerto was a reminder of the expressive simplicity that Uchida can conjure at her best – but not enough of them, and not enough either of the cross-fertilisation of ideas you would expect from a pianist and an orchestra of this pedigree.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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