Mitsuko Uchida’s Schubert Sonatas

Sunday matinees at Symphony Center are becoming a bit of a weakness of mine.  This past weekend’s event was a recital by the legendary pianist Mitsuko Uchida.  Recently, I’ve been investigating classical Viennese composer Franz Schubert, and coincidentally Dame Uchida was doing an all-Schubert program – three sonatas for solo piano.  It was the combination of Schubert and Uchida that prompted my excursion.  The weather helped too; it was a nice day to get out.

Early 19th century Vienna was the capital of music in Europe.  When Schubert was in his late teens, he began to make his living with music, emerging on his home town’s bustling music scene.  His newfound independence from work at his family’s school enabled him not only to become an extraordinarily prolific composer, but also to sow the wild oats of youth – he lived it up and began to make a name for himself.  I can’t imagine that many composers have types of social gatherings named after them, but Franz Schubert did – in Vienna in the eighteen-teens, the Schubertiade emerged as a gathering where the great composer shared his compositions with friends and followers.  Symphony Center program notes, by Richard Rodda, include a reproduction of a painting depicting such a gathering.

The painting was created 80 years after the composer published the first work on Uchida’s program – 1817’s Sonata in B Major, D. 575.  The program also included sonatas D 845 in A minor and D 850 in D  major, both composed toward the end of Schubert’s life, in 1825.  There are many themes to appreciate in each of them, and the sonatas are all extremely pleasant and easy to follow musically – the program notes indicate that “Schubert made no attempt to redefine the classical four-movement sonata structure in his music.”

But Uchida is widely known as an interpretive master of Schubert – if the classical structure is intact throughout these works, the pianist layers on significance and depth with her subtle approach, especially in the final sonata of the program.  Schubert is a songwriter – his music is infused with themes that could be sung and that are evocative and lyrical; Uchida pours herself into them, making the most of the at-times whimsical sonatas.

Mitsuka Uchida turns 70 this year – I’m impressed by artists who are driven to continue to create, long after their careers made resting on laurels easy.  Her current tour explores Schubert’s sonatas in depth as she performs in cities across the world.  Uchida’s energy at the piano easily filled Symphony Center – I just received next year’s symphony schedule and I see that she’s again on it.  There’s always so much to see.

Thanks for reading.


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