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Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Uchida, Nelsons. Staccato Mozart, and tense Bruckner. Boston Symphony Orchestra, April 13, 2017

Uchida, Nelsons. Staccato Mozart, and tense Bruckner. Boston Symphony Orchestra, April 13, 2017

 Andris Nelsons conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with Mitsuko Uchida, piano, Thursday, April 13, 2017. Winslow Townson photograph.

Andris Nelsons conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with Mitsuko Uchida, piano, Thursday, April 13, 2017. Winslow Townson photograph.

There was nothing pretty about this Mozart. The piano concerto No. 20 comes ready-made for seriousness—minor key, low voices predominant in the winds. But many, many times performances are sweetened up—dynamic ranges softened for a calming effect, the slow movement molded into a lyrical suite of ideas.

Not in the hands of Mitsuko Uchida, Thursday evening at Symphony Hall. With Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra as willing partners, Uchida made the concerto growl. She made it command attention, not seduce the listener into it. In short, she made it into the concerto it truly is, a challenging work that demands the virtuosity of the performer and the strict attention of the listener.

The soloist made this most clear in the middle movement. Rather than a lyric ride, easing the listener and her stage-mates along with rangy, articulated phrases, Uchida pounded out a staccato, insistent rhythm. It sounded like she was saying musically to her stage-mates, “Play this way.”

The slow movement almost sounded like a march. And in the outer movements, Nelsons played his part. Dynamics were extended as far into ppp and into fff as could be reasonably derived from the score. Entrances were crisp, bold. He listened, she listened. And there was a lot for the audience to listen to because of it.

The wind textures aided the serious mood—one flute, no clarinets. Choppy syncopations were the norm, especially in the opening movement. The cadenzas as well—Uchida played Beethoven’s—were articulated as far as possible to the extremes of volume and tempo.

It would be no surprise if many listeners hated this—Mozart has his devotees, with a history of listening to different approaches. But this was an artist at work—supported greatly by a savvy conductor and his forces.

Trying a new tack with Bruckner, whose sixth symphony closed this program. No score, little advanced preparation. Just come and listen. 

So this. The most fully realized movement of this symphony is its Scherzo, driven by the staccato low strings. Elsewhere, so much of the harmonic accompaniment comes in the form of unison ostinatos, so much so that in too many instances, deep listening—playing alert attention to the non-melodic sections in the orchestra—wasn’t really rewarded. In an anachronistic way, much of it sounded minimalistic.

But. There is so much rhythmic invention—counting sometimes was an exercise in advanced math—that the relative simplicity of the harmonic language was easy to forget. What it lacked in texture, it substituted in surface tension. The Sixth has its own appeal—not appeal compared to this, or similar to that. On its own.

 

CADENCE: Uchida last played this concerto with the BSO at Tanglewood in 1995. Its BSO debut came in Feb. 1886, and the soloist was Mrs. H.H.A. Beach—the stage name of the composer we know today as Amy Beach. Uchida recorded the Mozart concertos live with the Cleveland Orchestra—conducting from the keyboard. So this willful approach was no surprise. Insightful ideas, well executed.

This program repeats this afternoon at 1:30 and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. 888-266-1200; bso.org

Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith; email to keithmichaelpowers@gmail.com

  

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