Monday, February 15, 2016

Mitsuko Uchida at Severance, and a note on the Supreme Court

Daniel and I had an enjoyable Saturday evening.  We celebrated both Daniel’s birthday and an early Valentine’s day (our 11th) by dining at Severance Hall.  This was our first dinner there (I met some friends there for lunch years ago), but it won’t be our last.  Severance Restaurant is now catered by Marigold, and the menu is small but well chosen.  Portions are well judged, so that Dan enjoyed his Duck confit and I my pasta with sausage without feeling overly bloated.  The service is understatedly pleasant, a contrast to the overly familiar wait-staff at some restaurants who feel the need to ask us how our meal is every thirty seconds.  We also noticed, with some amusement, that we were the youngest couple in the room – which is not only unusual since I’m pushing 50, but in noted contrast to the audience, which boasted a great number of young people.

The all-Mozart program featured Mitsuko Uchida in the Piano Concertos No. 17 in G major, K. 453, and No. 25 in C major, K. 503 - which were being recorded as part of a continuing series for Decca.  A note in the program reminded audience members to silence their cell phones, but the large volume of coughing from the audience will probably result in Decca needing to use rehearsals for source material. The Concertos book-ended Symphony No. 34 in C major, K. 338 led by concertmaster William Preucil. 

This was our fourth time hearing Uchida with the orchestra, and it occurred to me, I’ve heard her in person about as much as any pianist.  During previous occasions with Uchida, we sat either toward the far end of the main hall, or in the balcony – with excellent results, sonically.  This time, we were in row E, just left of center.  This proved to be less optimal than expected:  Uchida sat with her back to the audience so she could direct the orchestra; as the lid was removed from the piano, her playing was not projected toward the audience.  She was audible in solo passages, but was all but lost when the orchestra played above mezzo forte.    Despite any balance problems, it was clear that the tempi were well chosen, and Uchida’s playing communicated both the joy in the music and her own sense of joy in sharing it with the audience.  She strikes me as a generous musician, both in the way she let orchestra members shine in certain passages (particularly the winds), and later singling them out for acknowledgment by the audience.  Incidentally, Uchida favored Toscanini’s style for seating the strings: 1st violins at stage left, 2nd violins on the right, cellos and violas on inside left and right, respectively.  This resulted in some interesting stereophonic effects during 1st and 2nd violin dialogs.

Shortly after Daniel and I arrived home, we heard the news that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had died.  I also heard of the appalling, but predictable, response from Senator Mitch McConnell and the buffoons and loons running for the Republican nomination for President, to the effect that President Obama should refrain from nominating another justice and wait for his successor to do so.  Historians have already pointed out the idiocy behind those remarks.  If Senate Republicans try to block President Obama's Supreme Court Nomination (he's already said he'll make one), it will unite Democrats behind whoever gets the nomination, and swing independents to the Democrats in BOTH the Presidential and Senate campaigns. So, go ahead, make our day.

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