Quik Rvw: CSO, Mitsuko, Mozart, and Shostakovich

The concert on Thursday night at the CSO was supposed to by Riccardo Muti conducting Cherubini and Shostakovich, Mitusko Uchida playing Schumann's Piano Concerto.  But at 2 in the afternoon, news started flaring up around the twitterverse that Muti had fallen--fainted but not unconscious--resulting in the Maestro pulling out of the concerts on Feb 3 and 4.  Leonard Slatkin, in town to help choose a conductor-apprentice graciously stepped in, conducting the Shostakovich without a score.  Mitsuko Uchida swapped Schumann for Mozart and led the CSO musicians herself in his 21st piano concerto.  Generally superb performances all around--even more amazing considering the circumstances--received generous applause from a modestly filled hall.

Uchida walked on stage in dark blue velvety pants that foreshadowed her soft touch.  On top, she wore a teal camisole and a translucent baggy blouse, revealing the transparency of Mozart's textures.  She and the CSO musicians breathed with one breath and gently caressed the contours of each phrase without devolving into something more romantic.  I especially appreciated the cadenza, written by Uchida, which exhibited tasteful virtuosity while throwing in quotations from the 40th Symphony.  Though impeccable, the 30-minute piece from the Classical era seemed too insubstantial to completely fill out the first half.  Intermission felt like it came too soon.

The Shostakovich on the second half, his 5th Symphony, more than compensated for the lightness of the first.  There was some strange excitement in the air as the audience relished in the unusual and unforeseen.  With the environment outside transformed into a Siberian landscape and thoughts and prayers with the Muti, Slatkin heroically stepped in to bring the audience one of Shostakovich's boldest statements both for and against Stalin, communism, and the individual rights of artists.  
The orchestra sounded generally very good.  I was reminded of the wide range of expression available in the strings: from pathos to ethos, sturm und drang to timid and meek.  The collective of the strings was contrasted by the individual solos in the winds.  The CSO soloists, flutist Mathieu Dufour par exemple, exuded a classical and refined sound, eschewing excessive expressivity, and recalling to the listener Shostakovich's neo-Classical bent.  In the face of overwhelming emotions, intellectualism is a fine retreat.  Other soloists, in the horn section for example, did not fare so well.
I had only seen this Symphony in person once but have heard it on recording many times.  Somehow, in this performance, the bloated sprawl of the piece started to make sense.  Not a flawless performance but effective.  Though I disagreed with some of Slatkin's tempi--the beginning to the 4th movement lumbered along--it was an apt portrayal of Shostakovich's wit and circumstance.

Filed under: CSO, review

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