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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109 (1820) [19:52]
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110 (1821-1822) [20:46],
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 (1822) [27:56]
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
rec. 2005, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, UK
PHILIPS 475 6935 [66:50]

I offer this review as an alternative response to that of my MusicWeb International colleague Colin Clarke who expressed considerable reservations when he reviewed this recital first appeared in 2006.

Since then Dame Mitsuko Uchida has returned to recording in what many consider to be her true Fach, which is the œuvres of Mozart – especially the Piano Concertos with the Cleveland SO - Schubert and, most recently, Schumann, but she also subsequently recorded nos. 28 and 29 of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, drawing another admiring but qualified response from the same reviewer.

The essential problem was deemed to be a lack of tension and forward momentum and direction; more of that anon. The thing that struck me on first playing was the sheer beauty of the recorded sound: recording engineer Sebastien Stein has produced a rich, deep, lucid and sonorous acoustic which to my ears is ideal. Secondly, I was struck by the remarkable muscularity of Uchida’s touch. She is known for poetic delicacy yet there is nothing over-refined in her Beethoven; her steely fingering and rhythmic buoyancy serve Beethoven’s propulsiveness well, especially in the demanding opening Allegros of Variations III and V in the finale of Op. 109. Yet the arabesques of Variation IV are as dreamy and ethereal as one would expect from this most sensitive of artists. The concluding recapitulation of the serene theme does indeed seem to be a circular return rather than an arrival at a destination of a linear journey – but I do not find that unsatisfactory; such is the subjectivity of our reactions.

I do not find No. 31 to be throughout as engaging a work as its predecessor or successor, but I admire Uchida’s attack and do not find her to be too “careful” in the short Allegro molto, in comparison even with the fiery Gilels. The Adagio is rapt and the Fugue is couched in terms of a trenchant discourse before rising to a powerful peroration.

I was again surprised by the demonic drive of Uchida’s playing in the opening Maestoso of Op. 111 yet there is no smudging of articulation on the right hand runs and the left hand chords are thunderous; this is truly magisterial playing. Uchida encompasses the wildness of Beethoven’s invention without over-emphasis; the famous “boogie-woogie” variation in the finale is not caricatured. Special mention should be made of the proficiency of Uchida’s trilling and her ability to engender a sense of calm luminosity in the high passages.

On the evidence of this magnificent album, I shall waste no time in acquiring her recording of No. 28 and the Hammerklavier.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Colin Clarke

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