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Genre: Classical Music
Media Format: Compact Disk
Release Date: 11-OCT-2005
Fine Performances from Uchida
Ross Kennett | Narooma, NSW Australia | 07/31/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was looking for a replacenent for my old Beethoven piano concertos, a 1973 recording of Ashkenazy and the Chicago symphany; the sound quality was very poor. Being impressed by Mitsuko Uchida's playing of Mozart, I thought I would order her recordings of the Beethoven piano concertos, but paused on seeing John Grabowski's very critical review. A quick search of the net turned up a very complementary review of no 5 on ClassicsToday, a 9,9 rating, and a generally kind review of all the concertos by Colin Clarke on Music Web, so I obtained a copy to hear it myself. I find I have few complaints, Uchida's performance is flawless, crisp and precise, light and transparent showing a close affinity with the music. My concern is similar to that of Clarke, sometimes the soloist and conductor do not click together, their styles differ. This is more apparent in nos 1 & 2, the early Beethoven does not call for fireworks, they are rather gentle works, the music is flowing along nicely, particularly when piano works with the woodwinds, while Sanderling sees p and m on the score, but when f occurs he feels obliged to toss in a few rounds from the heavy artillery. The mood is broken, and sometimes the tempo. This is much less a problem with the later works, I am more than happy with no 3, which has been a favourite of mine for 50 years, 4 is very good, a live performance?, and the "Emperor" is the best I've heard of this often overdone concerto, the final movement dances and shines. Overall this is a 4.5 star recording, which is not allowed, so I will up it to 5 to get the average up a bit ! "
Nothing is said in this music
John Grabowski | USA | 03/01/2007
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I approached this with great hopes. I'd just heard some of Uchida's Mozart sonatas and Debussy etudes, and enjoyed both, though neither, perhaps, to justify her reputation. But I've long respected Sanderling. I love the Concertegebouw and other orchestras he conducts. Philips is my favorite label for sound. Should be a dream set, right?
Oh, why do dream sets always go so wrong? I literally have not been able to get through one movement in this box. They all sound so detached to me. Uchida plays with perfect control, but in my view she does not understand Beethoven, with her fussy trills and dynamics that are outsized from those of the orchestra, especially in the delicate Fourth. She and Sanderling seem to be on separate planets as they perform these works. But even in the solo 32 Variations in C minor I get nothing from her. This is not "great" Beethoven, but it's always been a big favorite of mine because of the impromptu nature of the work--unlike almost all other Beethoven, it sounds as though it were written in a white-heat, sort of a 19th century jam session or cutting contest. Here I get none of that spontaneity; just thoughtless re-tar-dan-does at the end of big phrases and the big slowdown at the end just before the last chords. Sort of an autopilot performance. Surely Uchida must have thought about what this music (all of it) means, but I get no indication when I listen to this. Similarly in the 3rd concerto, her rather fantasia-esque cadenza in the first movement sounds at odds with her and Sanderling's straightforward, four-square interpretation of the rest of the movement. Emotionally it feels like they never connect.
According to Arrau, Sanderling is the only conductor he ever worked with who saw the first movement of the Fourth Concerto as sad. He says they never even talked about it; it was just instinctual. I don't get that feeling in this recording. I got to the second part of the development section and had to eject the disc in disappointment and disgust. This is probably my favorite piano concerto, and certainly my favorite Beethoven concerto, but here I get none of the rhapsodic flow of melodies, the soaring and falling dynamics, the delicate, the inevitable build to the recap, or long-range pacing and structural understanding that make Arrau/Galliera or Arrau/Haitink or Kempff/van Kempen so special. Admittedly this is a hard nut to crack, and admittedly I have some very personal views on how this music should go (more elegiac than anything else), but still, I'd settle for *any* personal view, and my main complaint here is not a disagreement of a strong-minded interpretation on Uchida's part but rather a lack of any interpretation on Uchida's part. The others are similarly sterile. All that is special about Beethoven has been removed. This set was about as necessary as another NBC "Must See TV" laughtrack-driven sitcom.
Maybe Uchida is just wrong for Beethoven. She's a colorist, and colorists do not do well in LvB's music. She also seems to specialize in lighter, more transparent works, and Beethoven calls for some pounding, some fist-shaking at the gods, as well as sudden, almost bipolar changes to sweetness and innocence. She doesn't deliver the goods. She's too refined and aristocratic and all glass surface. Some other reviewers have compared her favorably to Grimaud in the 4th--another incredible misfire in my opinion. Even more puzzling is Sanderling. Maybe he just didn't strike fire with her. Maybe he did, but I'm not hearing it. Maybe he's just getting old. But this is not among his better work.
The sound is a bit bright, especially with the piano, which is very upfront and seems to often get louder as Uchida plays high on the scale--or is she just involuntarily crescendoing? This sounds fine in my car but lousy on my better-quality home system. The cynic in me says they're now engineering CDs more for automobile listening and iPods than anything else. This one is going into my "sale" pile right away."
An excellent cycle
Sid Nuncius | London England | 03/25/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an outstanding complete cycle of Beethoven's Piano Concertos. I ordered it after being very disappointed with the Brendel/Rattle set (from which I expected great things being a great admirer of both) and this Uchida/Sanderling set was a revelation. Uchida's more recent recordings of the late Piano Sonatas have proved her to be a very fine interpreter of Beethoven, winning almost universal praise, and this re-issue of her earlier ventures into Beethoven shows that she is very, very good in the concertos as well.
As with her excellent Mozart concertos, one of Uchida's great strengths is her restraint and refusal to resort to the sort of techniques which are intended to draw attention to the brilliance of the soloist and which (in my view, anyway) distract from the brilliance of the music. It isn't that she is cold or uninvolved - very far from it - but she uses her virtuosity to the service of Beethoven, not to the service of Uchida, and the result is magnificent music-making. She (as always) has a lovely tone and her technique is impeccable which makes the slower movements truly affecting and really memorable (the Adagio of the Emperor Concerto is stunning), and she has the power to give it some real welly when needed without it ever feeling forced or harsh.
Sanderling and the two orchestras he conducts on the set are also outstanding, with a real feel for both the music and for Uchida's playing; the partnership is a joy. The whole thing is a real tour de force from start to finish and I'm surprised that this cycle isn't better known - I think it knocks spots off several more celebrated sets. Furthermore it's an amazing bargain.
Experienced Beethoven listeners will all have their individual favourites playing each of the concertos, of course, and not everyone will like every concerto here as much as I do, but if you're looking for a really good complete cycle you have very little to lose and a wonderful musical experience to gain with this set and I recommend it very warmly indeed."
Sanderling coasts, leaving Uchida stranded
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/10/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"One shouldn't judge Mitsuko Uchida's Beethoven from this pallid, under-inflected concerto cycle. She went on to make a magnificent "Hammerklavier" Sonata recording full of strength and conviction. Both are lacking here, however, and one wonders if this highly intelligent artist wasn't trying to adopt a new style in these works that is purposefully light and sparkling rather than the masculine drive that immpels most Beethoven playing.
If so, she is seriously undone by Sanderling, who simply seems old and tired. His conducting is proficient enough, but there's no energy. Was Uchida doing her best in the face of a conductor coasting through the score? There are long stretches of alluring keyboard work, and Uchida does well overall, I think, in the Fourth Cto., but expect Clara Haskil here, not Rudolf Serkin.
Beethoven concerto cycles have been oddly unlucky, with disappointments from Brendel, Ashkenazy, Katchen, Perahia, Pollini, and now Uchida, all of whom seem to find these works uninspiring. To fhear really satisfying performances, you have to pick and choose, and even then the great ones linger in the past."