Mitsuko Uchida, piano

Schubert – C Major Sonata, D. 840

Schubert – G Major Sonata, D. 894


Like almost every other festival this year, Petworth’s annual summer music festival, which normally takes place in July, fell victim to the restrictions imposed in response the coronavirus pandemic, but rather than cancel this year’s festival altogether, its organisers sensibly moved the music festival to the autumn and combined it with the literary festival. The events are all online, though some are live, with audience, to create “a real ‘Petworth’ feel about them” (Stewart Collins, Artistic Director) and, as always, there’s a fantastic line up of performers and guests, including Sheku and Isata Kanneh Mason, The London Mozart Players with Howard Shelley, and Mitsuko Uchida. Petworth Festival always attracts an impressive roster of performers and amply confirms that there is very high quality music-making to be found outside of the capital.

We’re all pretty used to watching concerts via livestream and videocasts now; superior technology allows such broadcasts to be presented with high-quality sound and visuals, which undoubtedly enhances the experience. It’s impossible to entirely recreate being in a concert hall, but one of the advantages of livestream is that you can choose when the view the concert: watch it live or at your own convenience, perhaps in the middle of the afternoon, as I did with this particular concert. With my laptop connected to the tv in the living room and a cup of tea in hand, I settled down to enjoy Mitsuko Uchida playing two sonatas by Franz Schubert.

I’ve only ever seen Uchida performing in the vast space of the Royal Festival Hall, yet every time she has managed to shrink the space, drawing us into her personal, musical world to create the atmosphere of a salon concert. This is particularly true when she plays Schubert, a composer who despite writing large-scale works, is a master of the introspective, and, as I have written on this blog, a composer for these corona times.

Uchida is very alert to Schubert’s idiosyncrasies, his chiaruscuro and elusive, shifting moods, and I always feel that she is very at home with this music. She creates the most remarkably sense of intimacy through hushed pianissimos, tapered sonorities and a sensitivity to Schubert’s “psychological dynamics” – where a fortissimo, for example, is tempered by a certain restraint and emotion is implied rather than made explicit in sound. She highlights details or moments of significance with a touch of rubato here, a little more pressing forward there, and these feel spontaneous, of the moment, never contrived (of course the ability to do this so effortlessly comes from a long association with the music and a deep knowledge of it).

Uchida also seems to subscribe to Andras Schiff’s assertion that one must “follow” Schubert, allowing the expansiveness of this music to unfold gradually. Her melodies have a warm cantabile, her dynamics subtly shaded, often revealing dark, mysterious layers beneath.

In the D894, described by Robert Schumann as “most perfect in form and conception”, she created a timeless serenity in the opening movement, opting for a relaxed moderato (rather than Richter’s famously ‘meditative’ slowness) to allow the narrative to flow naturally into the dramatic grandeur of the development. What followed was a second movement with a contrasting rhythmic vigour in the more passionate passages, a tender, folksy lullaby in the third movement, and an elegant, supple finale replete with pastoral charm.

122117455_4474452515958519_7672388628339138679_oSchubert isn’t a showy composer, and nor is Uchida a showy performer. For this concert, she was dressed soberly in a dark fluid trouser suit, but there was a glint of showiness in her footwear – the most elegant silver shoes which lent a roccoco flair. Of course, the superb camera work allowed one to enjoy such details: to get up close and personal with the performer as the camera lighted on her  hands and face, revealing myriad expressions, often unconscious, and which perhaps offered a glimpse to the personality beyond the notes.


Petworth Festival continues until 1 November – more information

Photo credits

Decca/Justin Pumfrey

Petworth Festival

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17-20 September

CityMusic Live, a new online concert platform, announces its 2020 Piano Fest

Over four days, pianists Warren Mailley-Smith, Yuki Negishi, Daniel Grimwood, Duncan Honeybourne, and Julian Jacobson will present concerts online in a celebration of the piano.

The extended weekend of concerts begins on Thursday, 17 September with Warren Mailley-Smith in a programme featuring works by Beethoven, Brahms and Ravel.

Piano Fest continues on Friday 18 September with Duncan Honeybourne’s programme Forest Idylls featuring enchanting, evocative works by Sibelius, MacDowell and Schumann echoing nature. Known for his technical precision and warm musicality, Duncan Honeybourne has been lauded as “heroic” by Musical Opinion and “a gifted pianist in whom a spirit of adventure meets high musicianship” by MusicWeb International.

Saturday 19 September features two concerts. At 6:00 PM, Daniel Grimwood presents Nocturnes and Variations featuring one of his own compositions, “Variations on a Theme by Field”. Daniel Grimwood’s playing has been characterised as “stimulating and revelatory in equal measure” by The Telegraph, and his programme promises to exhibit both his virtuosity and his intellectual sensibility. Following at 8:00 PM, Yuki Negishi performs a concert entitled Passion, featuring works by Franck, Chopin and Beethoven. Praised for her “Piano Music by Women” series in June and July, Yuki Negishi was chosen in the Top 5 online performances for the week of 29 June by Pianist Magazine.

The weekend continues on Sunday with a matinee performance which celebrates The Piano Sonata by renowned pianist and Royal College of Music professor, Julian Jacobson. The programme features sonatas by Scarlatti, Berg and Beethoven. The weekend comes to a close on Sunday evening with Warren Mailley-Smith’s celebration of Chopin, a composer very close to his heart – he was the first British pianist to perform Chopin’s complete works for solo piano from memory in a series of 11 recitals at St John’s Smith Square in 2016.

Single tickets and festival packages are available. Book tickets

All concerts will be streamed to worldwide audiences through www.citymusiclive.co.uk

City Music Live is in the brainchild of pianist Warren Mailley-Smith. Since lockdown began in March, has presented over 30 online concerts through social media with over 400,000 total views, reaching audiences world-wide.


[source: press release]

The concert halls are closed but the music goes on, and many musicians are turning to video-casts and livestreamed concerts to share their music with others. Here are a couple you might like to subscribe:

Fenella Humphreys, violin

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_JlM05leyWyMXxUjiZBn6w


Carducci String Quartet

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNe2mg8zBdHR6OPzIbKm1qg/feed


If you are livestreaming concerts and would like to be featured on this site, please contact The Cross-Eyed Pianist