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Monday, August 28, 2017

Arnold Schoenberg; Anton Webern; Alban Berg - Piano Concerto; etc. (Mitsuko Uchida)


Composer: Arnold Schoenberg; Anton Webern; Alban Berg
  • (01-04) Schoenberg - Piano Concerto, Op. 42
  • (05-07) Webern - Variations, Op. 27
  • (08-10) Schoenberg - Drei Klavierstücke, Op. 11
  • (11-16) Schoenberg - Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19
  • (17) Berg - Piano Sonata, Op. 1

Mitsuko Uchida, piano
Cleveland Orchestra
Pierre Boulez, conductor (1-4)

Date: 2001
Label: Philips



Uchida marries Viennese radicalism and 19th-century romanticism to typically lucid effect

This programme might have been put together with an eye to avoiding any direct competition. No harm in that, but the issue of comparison scarcely arises, since Uchida’s distinctive musical personality and outstanding technique make her Schoenberg, Berg and Webern well worth hearing however many other versions of these works you have in your collection.

Uchida brings a marvellous spontaneity and sense of drama to the more overtly romantic compositions here – Berg’s Sonata and Schoenberg’s Op 11 Pieces. This is certainly not one of those accounts of the Berg where you question the composer’s wisdom in marking the first section for repeat. As for the Schoenberg, never have I been more aware of this music’s closeness in time and spirit to the cataclysmic world of the monodrama Erwartung. Uchida’s earlier recording if Op 11 was warmly praised, and this one is no less accomplished. Elsewhere, her relish for strongly juxtaposed contrast risks occasional over-emphasis, as in the third of the short Op 19 pieces, and the virtues of more sharply articulated playing in this repertory are demonstrated on Peter Hill’s admiral bargain-price Naxos disc. His account of Webern’s Variations is exemplary in its clarity and feeling for line; yet Uchida manages to suggest deeper links with more romantic perspectives without in any way traducing the music’s inherent radicalism.

Links with romanticism are even more explicit in the texture and thematic character of Schoenberg’s Concerto, and this performance places the work firmly in the tradition of Liszt and Brahms. Not even Pierre Boulez, with his well known scepticism about the music’s neo-classicism, can bring ideal lucidity to the occasionally lumpy orchestral writing, but the performances a whole, with excellent sound, has an attractive sweep and directness of utterance. Alfred Brendel’s second recording remains a fine achievement, with a special touch of geniality in the first movement. But the orchestral playing is less refined than on the new disc, the recording drier, with a flatter perspective. Nor are Michael Gielen’s readings of Schoenberg’s two chamber symphonies as competitive as Uchida’s of the solo piano works.

-- Arnold Whittall, Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: **** / SOUND: *****


Arnold Schoenberg (13 September 1874 – 13 July 1951) was an Austrian composer, leader of the Second Viennese School. Schoenberg was known early in his career for simultaneously extending the traditionally opposed German Romantic styles of Brahms and Wagner. Later, his name would come to personify innovations in atonality that would become the most polemical feature of 20th-century art music. In the 1920s, Schoenberg developed the twelve-tone technique, an influential compositional method of manipulating an ordered series of all twelve notes in the chromatic scale.


Anton Webern (3 December 1883 – 15 September 1945) was an Austrian composer and conductor. He studied composition under Arnold Schoenberg, and met Alban Berg at the Vienna University. Along with his mentor Schoenberg and his colleague Berg, Webern was at the core among those within and more peripheral to the circle of the Second Viennese School, including Ernst Krenek and Theodor W. Adorno. Webern's music was among the most radical of its milieu, both in its concision and in its rigorous and resolute apprehension of twelve-tone technique. Thirty-one of his compositions were published in composer's lifetime.


Alban Berg (February 9, 1885 – December 24, 1935) was an Austrian composer. Berg studied with Schoenberg for six years (1904-1911) and they remained close lifelong friends. Berg is remembered as one of the most important composers of the 20th century and to date is the most widely performed opera composer among the Second Viennese School. His compositions  combined Mahlerian Romanticism with a personal adaptation of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique. He is considered to have brought more "human values" to the twelve-tone system, his works seen as more "emotional" than Schoenberg's.


Mitsuko Uchida (born 20 December 1948 in Atami) is a Japanese naturalised-British classical pianist and conductor. Uchida moved to Vienna, Austria, with her diplomat parents when she was 12 years old and enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Music to study with Richard Hauser, and later Wilhelm Kempff and Stefan Askenase. She is an acclaimed interpreter of the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy and Schoenberg. Uchida won Gramophone Awards for her recordings of Mozart's Piano Sonatas and Schoenberg's Piano Concertos (with Pierre Boulez).


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