Noble lies, persuasive and justifiable. The great saints spun them into pious fiction. Socrates and Plato, too. Even earthly descendants have been fond of flexing the charismatic muscle. Preacher on pulpit, the soloist commands a compelling venue. They can spin broad, interpretive yarns – embellishing, polishing, tweaking and editorializing dusty manuscript markings to bend modern ears of fickle ticket-holders in well-placed, venerated tributes and pyrotechnics.

Dame Mitsuko Uchida © Richard Avedon
Dame Mitsuko Uchida
© Richard Avedon

Where others take soft liberties, Dame Mitsuko Uchida taps grace and truth in self-possessed, rarely misplaced discretion. In a Carnegie Hall concert recital of Alban Berg, Franz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Robert Schumann, the Japanese pianist polished compositional big beauties to perfection. She bears her composers well.

So out came the petite Japanese maestra in golden, goodyear welted shoes and a foam of bloused gossamer for a program of Romantic finger-warmers, opening with early 20th-century atonal, 12-tone modernist shades of Berg's Piano Sonata, Op.1. The work – published in 1910, premiered in 1911 – was composed between 1907 and 1909 while Berg was under Arnold Schoenberg’s compositional tutelage in Vienna.

Underpinned by atonal heartwood based on triads and chromatic harmonies, Uchida painted Berg’s single-movement sonata in lush color with plush, velvety, mossy tones, evoking vivid naturalism in Berg's voluptuous melodies.

Like the Berg Viennese soupçon, Uchida tapped another short, one-piece movement with Mozart's Rondo in A minor, K511, written in 1787 while the Austrian composer was living in Vienna. The A minor andante work, crafted mainly in eighth notes, canters from intense, minor melancholies to clean, major harmonies, F and A notably. As an interpreter, there's temptation to belabor the sixteenth and triplet-sixteenths of Mozart's artful, omnipresent, gorgeous decorations, but Uchida chose purity and balanced harmony. Underpinned by pleasant fingering, she softened haunted, piteous minor casts with ethereal pedaling. When Mozart called for beauty, she lilted; when he called for a gallop, she dug-in; when he called for kick, she roughed it up; and when he called for melancholy, she shadowed.

With exemplary sensitivity and featherweight agility, Uchida undertook Four Impromptus, D899, the first quadruple from Schubert's romantic, eight-piece Impromptus composed in 1827. The blazing, expository Allegro molto moderato mastered airy finger weights with a left hand technique so luminous, it became merely a suggestion of notes laid in washes of sound.

Banging on bright and quick, Uchida segued to the E flat major Allegro’s massive triplets, which ran high on fluidity and swiftness, and braced a middle section of masterly fortes. A well-sustained, broadly melodic Andante was woven in duskily-tipped tonalities. The A flat major Allegro carries certain temptation to become an intensely rambling diatribe, but Uchida controlled its tantrums and shaped them into compelling, provocative outcries.

Written from 1832 to 1835 and published one year later, Schumann's Piano Sonata no. 1 in F sharp minor was dedicated to then-girlfriend Clara during their long, fiery courtship. Like the greatest romances and love stories, there were many conflicts in Uchida’s interpretation: gravity vs. restlessness, prudence vs. recklessness. But like the most skilled fishermen know when landing a heavily-baited hook from sea to shore – keep them deep, keep them still. In all of that grand depth, there was great serenity.

Uchida cut the introduzione high with decisive, biting finger weights, masterfully elegant cross hands and thunderous fortes, which led to a middle scherzo that alternated sweet tenderness with sprightly puckishness. The finale taped into great strength, never muscled, with assured, roiling rondos and exquisite passages. Romantic rebelliousness.