This recital programme was built on two composers long-associated with Dame Mitsuko Uchida, whose reputation and legendary playing ensured a sold-out Turner Sims long before the turn of the year. If Mozart and Schumann are worlds apart stylistically they were unified by Uchida’s quest for artistic integrity, poetic insights and self-effacing platform manner. Elegance and poise characterised her Mozart, while a dreamy radiance and controlled passion blazed through her Schumann.

Dame Mitsuko Uchida © Jean Radel
Dame Mitsuko Uchida
© Jean Radel

Everyone knows the deceptive ease of Mozart’s Sonata in C major K545, (dubbed by the composer as “a little keyboard sonata for beginners”) given here with wonderfully crystalline tone, its first movement utterly beguiling and flawlessly articulated. In a perfectly judged Andante Uchida produced a glowing cantabile characterised by the most subtle lingering, never affected, and her musical intelligence always at the service of the music. Her Rondo finale was understated, but crisply delivered with every note fitting like a glove.

There followed two of Schumann’s evergreen piano pieces conceived during the 1830s, his creative energies fired by his consuming love for Clara Wieck. The first, Kreisleriana, Op.16 (written within an astonishingly short period of four days) follows the composer’s favourite devise of juxtaposing a chain of contrasting character pieces to fashion a larger structure. In most of these, Uchida was compelling, particularly in introspective passages where fabulously calibrated dynamics intensified Schumann’s sense of poignancy. At times she conjured a jewel-like clarity – notably in the sparkle of No. 5 (Sehr Lebhaft) – and in the fugal passage of No. 7 (Sehr rasch) she was superbly athletic. But uninhibited drama was missing from the turbulent opening piece, where she seemed to trade wild abandon for security.

After the interval her account of Schumann’s Fantasie in C, Op.17 was a more consistent and assured affair. Her imperious opening indicated a more bravura approach to this large-scale work which the composer claimed was “The most passionate thing I have ever composed”. She made light of the first movement’s persistent rippling figuration and with a transparency of tone in the right hand found the core of its mournful character. Its final bars were magical. The central movement had its share of drama too, where a limpid tone was framed by playing of tremendous vigour, especially in a closing page where Uchida fearlessly confronted Schumann’s homicidal leaps. The raptures of the third movement were beautifully conveyed in playing of deep commitment; its ecstatic coda given with dreamy radiance.

She returned to offer an encore, not one by her beloved Mozart but a full fourteen minutes worth of the contemporary German composer Jörg Widmann who in his Sonatina facile breathes deliciously quirky new life into Mozart’s K545. Framed by the same movement headings, this invigorating homage deconstructs Mozart’s piece and revisits its melodic gestures and stylistic qualities in spiky and expressively modernistic language that borders on the bizarre. In Widmann’s urge to transport the vitality of Mozart into the here and now Uchida was completely at home. As her playing so clearly demonstrated at the start of the evening she was born to play Mozart.