Mozart Piano Concertos in Twoo Takes

Radu Lupu
The New York Times

Computers, it is said, can do anything, provided they are asked the right questions. Symphony orchestras - the kind with the near-limitless talent of the New York Philharmonic  - are pretty much the same. Conductors with the right questions can make the Philharmonic glitter, bang, coo or roar to their own specifications. Colin Davis, who conducted the orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall on Wednesday, turned it into a collection of exemplary Mozarteans.

That cannot have been easy, given the Philharmonic's usual shininess and precision. Mr. Davis succeeded, I suspect, by pushing fewer buttons, not more. He invites rather than pursues; players used to being spoken to are allowed to speak; string sections soften and relax; sharp edges take on a fuzziness; the louds and softs of phrase marks seem not just executed but also carried out physically, by a laying on of the hands.

And speaking of exemplary Mozarteans, Mitsuko Uchida and Radu Lupu were onstage to play Mozart piano concertos both separately and together. It was quite an evening. First came Mozart's little Symphony No. 32: three quick run-on movements, like a Classical-era symphony condensed Reader's Digest style. Ms. Uchida played the Concerto in F, No. 19, and Mr. Lupu the B flat, No. 27, the last of the series. After intermission the two played the Two-Piano Concerto in E flat.

They put on very different shows: Ms. Uchida swaying her torso gently and looking like a water nymph about to dissolve in the air; Mr. Lupu almost motionless, leaning back like a spectator watching Radu Lupu play the piano. (The image comes from a colleague's description of another pianist.) Eyes closed, listeners heard playing of similar elegance and sentiment from both.

Mr. Lupu's decision to play the finale as fast as he does necessarily sacrifices the clarity of rapid passages for overall loveliness of effect. It is a trade-off people who do this piece have to make: a sprint with blurs or a gentler lope in which all is revealed. Ms. Uchida adopted a dryness of tone, probably calculated and perhaps an acknowledgment of Mozart's own weaker and less luxurious instrument and the lessons of the early-music movement in general.