It was an impossible task not to build expectations for this concert. A solid programme of greats by Debussy, Mozart and Brahms, led by the unstoppable Bernard Haitink. The icing on the cake, was the presence of Mistuko Uchida, still one of the most engaging Mozart interpreters on the international stage. The Barbican was duly sold out, and from the palpable warmth in the hall, it would seem that expectations were safely met for all.

Mitsuko Uchida © Richard Avedon
Mitsuko Uchida
© Richard Avedon

The concert opened with Debussy’s Prelude à l'après-midi d'un faune, one of a handful of pieces, along with Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, which are frequently singled out as heralding the dawn of Modernism in music. There is certainly something subtly arresting about the opening bars which consist of a chromatic descent to a tritone below the original pitch, and subsequent ascent, beautifully shaped, in this concert, by Gareth Davies. This was a beautiful performance – leisurely, colourful and organic. At times, the climactic moments, languid though they should be, could have been more impassioned, but it was still a masterfully-controlled interpretation. 

Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 22 in E flat has never enjoyed the popularity of its immediate neighbours, unjusty so. As far as late Mozart piano concerti go, it is relatively obscure and yet, unsurprisingly, it is a wonderful piece. This is the first Mozart piano concerto to use clarinets instead of oboes, and the wind play an integral role throughout.

Mistuko Uchida made her name on the London stage over 30 years ago with a complete cycle of Mozart's piano sonatas and her performances of this repertoire have always been special. Post the authenticity movement, it can be difficult to make Mozart work in the concert hall. In different hands this performance could have seemed unfashionable, the tempi slower and the orchestra larger than in many modern performances, it felt traditional yet not what we might now consider authentic. However, Uchida performs with such honesty and integrity it's impossible not to be captivated. The LSO wind were exemplary throughout, and it was evident how closely Uchida was listening to the orchestra ensuring a real sense of dialogue. The pathos-infused slow movement was particularly revelatory and the rhapsodic finale with its potpourri of themes sparkled. 

The second half was given over to Brahms' Symphony no. 4 in E minor, the LSO string section considerably enlarged yet still achieving the impeccable precision they are well-known for. This was once again a traditional performance. The opening movement with its sighing string motif was taken at a steady tempo which allowed for a sense of weight and gravitas. Perhaps the only downside to this moderate tempo was that the slow movement made less of an impression. The third movement, however, was suitably ebullient, a mood that was then shattered by the final movement, the Passacaglia based upon Bach's cantata Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 150. The climaxes felt particularly grand throughout and the performance, like Haitink was stately and traditional.

This might not have been a concert of surprises, the interpretations felt familiar but never routine, but ironically that in itself was somewhat refreshing. No gimmicks, no concern for what might be currently fashionable, just honesty, integrity and a tangible reverence for the music.