This is the third live recording of Mozart Piano Concertos in the collaboration between Mitsuko Uchida and the Cleveland Orchestra on Decca. The previous two were notable for the thoughtfulness and subtlety of the performances and this issue is in many ways the best yet. Recorded as recently as April 2012 in the grateful acoustic of the Severance Hall, it is technically and sonically flawless, achieving a lovely balance between the sonorous new Hamburg Steinway and the refined orchestra. The sound is warm and detailed with very little audience noise. There is just enough of a hint of percussive edge in the piano to provide piquancy but the horns and flutes in the opening bars of K467 are also sufficiently prominent to emphasise its sprightly military character.
The combination of works on offer is especially enticing: K467, perhaps Mozart's most celebrated piano concerto and K271, the inaccurately named "Jeunehomme", a work from the first flowering of his youthful maturity written in the month of his twenty-first birthday.
The fluidity, evenness and delicacy of Uchida's touch are a joy throughout; this is effortless music-making at its most captivating. The sweetness of her playing of Mozart's cadenza in the first movement is capped by a glorious trill flourish bringing the movement to a very satisfying close. The exuberance of the Allegro yields to the sighing melancholy of muted strings underpinning the pianist's filigree arioso figures. Typically of a concerto of such varied and contrasting moods, the Presto is first attacked with real brio and élan; then comes the surprise minuet section, again with muted strings and pizzicato accompaniment, before the movement closes with a cadenza of great strength and purpose.
The more familiar C major concerto is played with verve but without showiness; Uchida, using her own cadenzas, offers an interpretation which is often elegant and understated but never listless. The pose of the famous Andante is succeeded by an irrepressibly high-spirited finale with Uchida executing the ruins with astonishing precision and fluency.
I have no criticism of this disc and look forward to the continuation and eventual completion of a superb series.
It's going to be impossible to convey what it is that makes this recording quite so special, but it is so intensely alive and has such authority that it seems to me the best Mozart playing I have ever heard. As you listen, every epithet springs to mind, often contradicting each other - it is both delicate and powerful, staccato (particularly striking in the sequential passages of K.467, to delectable effect) and singing, surprising in every phrase and yet convincing you at that very instant that this is the way it really should go ... There's absolutely nothing precious about it, yet the sound stops short of ever being clangorous, even though it often pushes in a boldly expressive direction. In short, Mitsuko Uchida is a marvel, and she draws wonderful playing from the Cleveland players also. The way she shapes the cantilena in both slow movements is phenomenal because it is not at all self-conscious and yet combines refinement with a sense that we are at the white-hot heart of Mozart's genius. It constantly makes you think of Beethoven, or even of a certain Romanticism in its expressiveness and controlled pedal blur, which is nevertheless kept within certain limits ... even so it makes me think how all music to some extent strives towards some kind of Romantic expression, whether looking forwards or back ... The finales are crisp but not especially fast, and while the figuration is beautiful what often strikes me is not so much the familiar shapes but how Uchida balances them against the left-hand figuration in such a way that the left hand seems to command the ear as well. You really find yourself listening for every slightest nuance of dynamic and phrasing like a rock-climber holding to the side of the cliff ... but with more pleasure ... It really is a thrilling experience!