SSO with Emanuel Ax: mastery coupled with humanity

SSO with Emanuel Ax: mastery coupled with humanity

SSO with Emanuel Ax: mastery coupled with humanity

By Bernard Jacobson | The Seattle Times

When Emanuel Ax plays Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, any participating orchestra’s principal cellist can expect to be accorded an equal place in the spotlight. It was heartwarming, at Benaroya Hall on Thursday evening, to observe the pianist’s insistent inclusion of Efe Baltacigil in his acceptance of the audience’s plaudits. Ax also followed his usual practice in presenting as an encore not a solo piece, but one that teamed the two players. The first of Schumann’s “Fantasy Pieces” (originally for clarinet) demonstrated, as had the cello solo in the concerto’s third movement, just what a treasure the Seattle Symphony acquired when it stole Baltacigil last season from the Philadelphia Orchestra.

This might be of little more than anecdotal interest, except that it goes to illuminate the sheer humanity that characterizes Ax’s playing no less than his deportment. Rather like such celebrated colleagues as cellist Yo-Yo Ma (his regular recital partner) and violinist Cho-Liang Lin, the pianist has a way of seeming to enfold every listener in a metaphorical embrace. Now 63, he has kept his always magisterial technique in tiptop condition, but it was the warmth of understanding and the chamber-musical modesty of collaboration he brought to the concerto that gave the performance its special allure.

Under Ludovic Morlot’s baton, the orchestra provided sterling support, and then the second half of a typically ingenious Morlot program gave his players the chance to showcase their own virtuosity. With Elliott Carter’s death the other day at 103, the 96-year-old Henri Dutilleux may be said to have become the “oldest living inhabitant” in the pantheon of contemporary composers, and he fills that position with high distinction. Begun in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, and completed in 1997, “The Shadows of Time” is a meditation on loss. One of Dutilleux’s most beautiful and poetic works, it makes its effect through a fascinating kind of structural indirectness. There is no recourse to traditional formal patterns. Yet, despite the absence of mere surface logic, the music achieves an expressive continuity that satisfies on a deeper, less facilely explicable level.

There are thoughtful woodwind ensembles, abrasive yet gentle in tone; flashing flights of fancy for all the higher-pitched instruments; solos for the brass (offering principal trumpet and trombone David Gordon and Ko-ichiro Yamamoto notable moments of glory); soft timpani interjections; and a labyrinthine richness in the writing for strings, which ranged from a sort of sorrowful muttering in the double basses to meltingly lovely passages high in the violins. There is also a short section featuring three children’s voices: their questioning protest against injustice was touchingly delivered by Benjamin Richardson, Kepler Swanson and Andrew Torgelson, still in their early teens, but already experienced performers. All in all, “The Shadows of Time” fully justified its place on the program beside a well-established orchestral showpiece. Strauss’ delightfully picaresque “Till Eulenspiegel” ended the concert in bravura fashion, with particularly trenchant contributions from clarinetists Christopher Sereque and Laura DeLuca.

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Next Concerts

    May 23, 2019

    Tour: Budapest Festival Orchestra

    Teatro Grande di Brescia

    with Iván Fischer, conductor

    MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K453

    May 24, 2019

    Tour: Budapest Festival Orchestra

    Teatro Morlacchi, Perugia 

    with Iván Fischer, conductor

    MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K453

    June 15, 2019

    Omroep Muziek

    Muzikcentrum van de Omroep, Hilversum

    BRAHMS: Rhapsodies, Op. 79
    BENJAMIN: Piano Figures
    SCHUMANN: Fantasiestücke, Op. 12
    RAVEL: Valses nobles et sentimentales
    CHOPIN: Mazurkas, Op. 50
    CHOPIN: Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22

    June 16, 2019

    Concertgebouw Amsterdam

    Master Pianists Series 

    BRAHMS: Rhapsodies, Op. 79
    BENJAMIN: Piano Figures
    SCHUMANN: Fantasiestücke, Op. 12
    RAVEL: Valses nobles et sentimentales
    CHOPIN: Mazurkas, Op. 50
    CHOPIN: Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22

    June 18, 2019

    Wiener Konzerthaus

    Mozart-Saal

    BRAHMS: Rhapsodies, Op. 79
    BENJAMIN: Piano Figures
    SCHUMANN: Fantasiestücke, Op. 12
    RAVEL: Valses nobles et sentimentales
    CHOPIN: Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No. 1
    CHOPIN: Mazurkas, Op. 50
    CHOPIN: Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22

    June 22, 2019

    Saffron Hall

    Saffron Hall, Essex

    BRAHMS: Rhapsodies, Op. 79
    BENJAMIN: Piano Figures
    SCHUMANN: Fantasiestücke, Op. 12
    RAVEL: Valses nobles et sentimentales
    CHOPIN: Mazurkas, Op. 50
    CHOPIN: Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22

    June 25, 2019

    Wigmore Hall

    Wigmore Hall, London

    Emanuel Ax, piano
    Sir Simon Keenlyside, baritone
    Dover Quartet

    SCHUMANN
    Arabesque in C Major, Op. 18
    Piano Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 47
    Fantasiestücke Op. 12
    Dichterliebe Op. 48
    Piano Quintet in E flat Major, Op. 44

     

    June 28, 2019

    Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin

    Philharmonie Berlin 

    with Kent Nagano, conductor

    MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K453

NY Philharmonic

Artist-in-Residence: Emanuel Ax 2012/13.
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