I had the privilege of attending two magnificent concerts over the weekend.
First was Saturday night at Severance Hall, with Mitsuko Uchida playing two Mozart Piano Concertos. (The tickets were a gift from my next door neighbor, who just moved out, as a thank you for our watching their dogs while they were selling their house.)
I first heard Uchida’s playing in 1992, in a recording of Debussy’s Etudes, which I hadn’t heard before. But this was the first time I’d seen her live. Uchida is known for wearing some striking outfits, and Saturday was no exception: She wore silvery flowing pants, with a transparent electric blue number on top of a kind of tube-top that looked like it was made of the kind of padding used underneath carpets. That’s the only way I can think to describe it, but her outfit was lovely.
So was her playing. Uchida recorded a complete set of Mozart Concertos not too long ago (no small feat, since there are 27 of them) with the English Chamber Orchestra under Jeffrey Tate. Now she’s redoing at least some of them with the Cleveland Orchestra, and conducting them herself from the keyboard. Concertos K. 488 and K. 491, my two favorites, were released on the Decca/London label about a year ago. Frankly, I thought those performances were over interpreted.
That was not a problem Saturday evening. The Concerto K. 466 in D minor was taut and hotter than usual. Uchida played Beethoven’s cadenzas, of course. The Concerto K. 595 in B-flat major was given a more standard performance – or maybe it’s simply a more standard work than the D minor. K. 595 is also less interesting pianistically – it’s really rather simple, and as a whole it did not captivate me as did the earlier concerto.
Between the concertos there was a diversion: The Divertimento, K. 186, written when Mozart was 16 years old. Its three movements were given in an authentic Divertimento style, with most of the players standing up – as would have been the case as this was written as house party music. The rhythms of the outer movements had an engaging bounce, while the central movement had a lovely songful quality.
Sunday, Danny and I trekked to Oberlin to hear Spencer Myer give a piano recital. I’ve known Spencer since about 1999, when I worked at Graves Piano and his church was purchasing an instrument. I was impressed by his playing then and am even more so now. There are many fine pianists who hold the audience at a distance, as well as those who coast on personality but don’t have much to offer in terms of technique and/or musicianship. Spencer’s not only a fine pianist and musician, but also an engaging personality who frequently chats with his audience about the music he’s playing. For the first time in a long while at a piano recital, some of the pieces on his program were unfamiliar to me: Leoš Janáček‘sPiano Sonata 1. X. 1905, and Aaron Copland’s Piano Variations. He spoke briefly about both works, even confessing that he initially “hated” the Copland. Spencer also played Schubert’s Impromptus, D. 899. The G-flat major, my favorite of the bunch, included some beautiful voicing where he articulated the left hand part over the melody.
Before the concert, Danny and I walked around the town square area, and I marveled at the quiet, tranquil evening. I could easily see us living in Oberlin.