Review: Mitsuko Uchida and Friends, Snape Maltings, April 30

This was indeed a concert of two halves, Schubert at his most engaging and accessible followed by Schoenberg at his most challenging. Most of the audience were up for it but there were a few more empty seats after the interval.

A nice little touch opened the evening – some off-stage tuning completed, a clear ‘OK, lets go’ (or something similar) introduced the performers. The decision to open with the Bb trio rather than the Notturno turned out to be entirely justified, the smaller work nicely taking us down to the interval from the expansive trio with no sense of anti-climax.

The trio opened with confident swagger from Uchida and cellist Clemens Hagen but violinist Mark Steinberg was rather too reticent and tended to be swamped in the louder passages. The sense of ensemble was immediate and the joy of the music clearly projected. The slow movement was beautifully played, the calm opening moving smoothly into more turbulent waters and the excursions into minor keys creating eddies of discomfort. The scherzo skipped happily along and the performers kept the interest and momentum going in the finale, even when Schubert’s invention flags somewhat. The Notturno received an equally affectionate performance with exquisite delicacy from Uchida.

Pierrot Lunaire, based on poems by Albert Giraud is of another world. Schoenberg was excited by the communicative possibilities these poems presented as he wrote to Albertine Zehme who had introduced him to them ‘I am going, absolutely, towards a new expression …. The sounds are becoming practically animal-like in the direct expression of sensuous and spiritual emotions’ Few people who heard this gripping performance will disagree with the composer’s assessment. The piano trio was joined by Marina Piccinini (flute), Anthony McGill (clarinet) and the impressive and imposing Barbara Sukowa as narrator. Sukowa displayed an extraordinary vocal range and was particularly compelling in the first set of poems focussing on the moon. The instrumentalists, with an incredible variety of sounds to conjure, blended with each other and the narrator to produce a range of musical cocktails to outstrip any bar.

Part 2 began in the darkest depths (gigantic black butterflies having blocked out the sun) but part 3 bought a little respite and the perfectly managed ending even a degree of comfort. Wonderful musicianship and conviction from premiere league performers.

Gareth Jones