A Profound Uchida and Sultry Biss Ignite Their Princeton Audience

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.
Princeton University Concerts presented Mitsuko Uchida and Jonathan Biss in a joint piano recital Wednesday, April 3, 2024, at the beautiful and historic Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall, on the grounds of Princeton University. The two celebrated pianists performed piano works for four hands by Franz Schubert:

Allegro in A Minor, D. 947, “Lebensstürme”

Grande Marche No. 5 in E-flat Minor, D. 819

Rondo in A Major, D. 951


Divertissement à la hongroise, D. 818

Yet again this season, this was another dark and stormy night. And, yet again, this was another sold-out house at this esteemed venue, and little wonder, since it is a lovely, intimate hall, featuring two internationally renowned artists who were playing music by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) for piano-four-hands.

A special treat were program notes written by Jonathan Biss, which were astonishing in displaying a keen intelligence into the works he would be performing. At every turn, Mr. Biss delighted us with his insights. One such memorable line was, “These pieces are a revelation. Schubert’s music is not merely beautiful, and profound, and confronting: it is grand. Its scale is epic; its vision is staggering.” Reading his program notes was a joy. However captivating the notes were, they were eclipsed by the duo’s playing. 

Physically unassuming, Mitsuko Uchida enters the hall with no bombast, approaching the piano with a matter-of-fact air, giving no indication that she is a great artist. So, too, does Jonathan Biss, who almost appears to have been thrown onstage against his will, and only wishes to quickly sit down at the piano and begin playing. 

From the very first chord of Lebenssturme, our minds, hearts, and emotions explode. Startling power and suavity are coaxed by the duo from the gleaming Steinway. How does one convey the visceral thrill? Imagine seeing one of those breakneck videos on YouTube where toboggans speed out of control, or a person with a camera strapped onto their helmet is skiing down impossible heights. Every conceivable emotion is experienced amid the vicarious thrills. So, too, with this incredible musical journey. Indeed, most of Schubert’s music for piano-four-hands is largely unknown, so this evening’s program was especially enlightening and savagely beautiful.

By chance, I was privileged to be invited to hear the exact same program repeated only days later in Philadelphia, where the duo would be playing at the Perelman Theater under the auspices of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Unfortunately, I could not afford the trip into Philadelphia and the parking fee, so I had to miss the singular opportunity of experiencing two of the finest musicians of today in two of the finest venues in our area. I am grateful for the opportunity to hear both distinguished and exciting artists at least once. So, dear reader, be sure to gift yourself with the amazing opportunity to attend a Princeton University Concert soon.

The 2024-2025 Princeton University Concert Season has been announced. Subscriptions are now available. Also, Jonathan Biss will appear again onstage April 24, Doric String Quartet on May 2, and others as well. For information on these concerts, as well as those for next season, visit: www.puc.princeton.edu

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