Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Uchida review – quiet artistry and joyful music-making

Royal Festival Hall, London
A programme of Mozart and Jörg Widmann was perfectly pitched. This orchestra has wind players you want to listen to all night

A concerto can pit a soloist against an orchestra in many ways: dialogue, argument, battle. But Mitsuko Uchida’s pair of Mozart piano concertos with the ever-international Mahler Chamber Orchestra went beyond that. On this Brexit-day evening, for those needing distraction from what was happening up the road in Parliament Square, their understated, ultimately joyful music-making was balm indeed.

A gentle pushing motion from Uchida, and the Concerto No 17 glided into motion. There was no shouting, no musician talking over the other, unless you count the three principal woodwinds in the middle movement, each picking up a thread of melody with equal songfulness. This orchestra has wind players you want to listen to all night.

Often Uchida and the orchestra seemed, in the best sense, like an old married couple, the one finishing the other’s sentences. Even the Concerto No 22 in E flat, with its perky fanfare themes, had a sense of inwardness, its final exuberance meaning more for having been earlier restrained.

Mitsuko Uchida
Spellbinding ... Mitsuko Uchida. Photograph: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

In between, with stage lights dimmed, came the chamber-orchestra arrangement of Jörg Widmann’s 2003 String Quartet No 2, led by violinist Alexi Kenney. Echoing with the ghost of conventional harmonies, and with its paragraphs punctuated with swishes and taps and gentle squeaks, the work had enormous atmosphere in this enveloping performance, with every silence between the notes seeming highly charged.

But the last word was left to Uchida alone. Her quiet artistry in Schubert’s deceptively simple, unassuming Impromptu in A flat cast a profound spell on an audience readier than ever to take it to heart.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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