Review of concert at Barbican for Guardian

Mitsuko Uchida came to Beethoven through Mozart and Schubert. In consequence, there are few better Beethoven works to hear her play than the poised, poignant concerto with which the composer bid farewell to his career as a soloist. Unlike most concertos, where soloist is pitched against orchestra in a dramatic jousting match, the fourth concerto is marked by a more collaborative effort, tuned toward a delicate exploration of the expressive energy that accumulates through the piano's opening chords. Phrasing, consequently, is everything, and if Uchida's intelligent and minutely attentive style made for a predictably exemplary solo performance, the orchestra were on this occasion her equal in every respect, matching her for precision of timing and rounded purity of tone.

Watching Uchida can be almost as great a delight as hearing her, a miniature ballet of gentle swaying. Beethoven's magnificently extended trills – with which the composer later became so preoccupied – seem to travel up her fingers from the keyboard, extending gradually along her arm before taking hold of her entire body, shimmering in its trademark loose silks. And as Uchida shimmered, an avuncular Davis twinkled back, conducting for the most part with his playfully communicative eyes an orchestra that seemed wholly at one with the play of lights at its centre.

A somewhat rude awakening followed with William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast. The orchestra doubled in size, Davis appearing to follow suit as he adopted the command and precision of gesture necessary for controlling both the bonanza of orchestral effect and the massed ranks of the London Symphony Chorus. Peter Coleman-Wright's solo baritone was convincing, even if he couldn't quite match the electricity of the carefully drilled chorus. The extended brass and percussion sections seemed as if Christmas had come early, providing a thrilling if somewhat violent way to purge the ear of all traces of Beethoven's intensely poetic utterance.

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