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May 3, 2017

Evanston, IL

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Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4
Brahms: Music For 2 Pianos
Haydn: Piano Sonatas
Liszt: Piano Sonata in B Minor
Mendelssohn: Piano Trios
Strauss: Enoch Arden

 

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Review: Emanuel Ax Weathers Beethoven’s Emotional Storms at Carnegie Hall

By

The New York Times

28 April 2016

Describing a pianist’s performance as unhinged might seem like an unlikely compliment. But the adjective could be applied in the most flattering terms to Emanuel Ax’s engrossing interpretation of Beethoven’s “Pathétique”Sonata on Wednesday evening at Carnegie Hall.

The sonata was included on an all-Beethoven lineup, with two popular sonatas bookending three lesser-known pieces. Mr. Ax brought demonic power to the “Pathétique,” which opened the program. In the opening section, he revealed with particularly vivid colors the contrast between crashing low chords and the yearning melody in the upper register. His clarity of line was admirable in the tumultuous thickets of the first movement; the ethereal Adagio unfolded with a gorgeous simplicity; and he imbued the third-movement Rondo with seething tension.

After the tumult of the “Pathétique,” Mr. Ax offered a lighthearted contrast, a delightful and delicately shaded interpretation of the Six Variations on an Original Theme in F (Op. 34). Beethoven wrote the “Pathétique” during what historians have recognized as his early period, when he was already challenging the precedent of Viennese Classicism established by composers like Mozart and Haydn. He continued to break new ground in his middle period, when he composed the “Appassionata” Sonata. Mr. Ax brought passion and power in admirable measure to his performance, which concluded the program on a stormy note.

Beethoven’s Sonata No. 16 in G is perhaps the least often programmed work of his Opus 31 set, which includes the famous “Tempest” Sonata. It received an insightful and elegant performance here. Mr. Ax played the runs in the first movement with sparkling energy; the trills of the Adagio unfolded with leisurely grace, and the concluding Rondo with both strength and charm.

The second half of the program included an unfamiliar short bonbon: thePolonaise in C (Op. 89), which Beethoven wrote in 1814 for festivities at theCongress of Vienna and dedicated to a visiting czarina. After all the dramatic Beethovenian moods, Mr. Ax offered a gentle encore: an introverted rendition of Schubert’s “Der Müller und der Bach,” in Liszt’s transcription.

Cleveland Orchestra enjoys artistic, financial success on gala evening with Emanuel Ax (review)

By Zachary Lewis

Cleveland.com

3 October 2016

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Consider the Cleveland Orchestra’s American deficit reduced. After a heavily American subscription season opener, the group Saturday followed up with a gala stocked with even more of the same.

What an invigorating twist it was. No offense to Beethoven, whose Piano Concerto No. 2 was also on the program, but Harbison, Copland, and Bernstein were nothing if not welcome and overdue breaths of fresh air on a night that generated $1.1 million for the orchestra’s educational initiatives.

Start with Harbison’s “Remembering Gatsby: Foxtrot for Orchestra,” a short dance sequence from a later opera. True to its name, the score saw the orchestra in big band mode, belting out a catchy, lilting tune with saxophone, trumpets, and drum-set. Even director Franz Welser-Most seemed to enjoy the frolic in an exotic musical language.

Conductor and orchestra also seemed fully attuned to Copland’s Suite from “Billy the Kid.” Everywhere in the score, from its evocations of wide-open landscapes to the Mexican Dance and percussive gun battle scenes, both parties delivered vigorous, fully-engaged performances. Particularly savory was the expressive solo by principal trumpet Michael Sachs in “Prairie Night (Card Game).”

Bernstein’s “Candide” Overture, by contrast, is a perennial Cleveland favorite, and reappeared Saturday as an encore. That this orchestra can do just about anything was clear from a blazing, truly virtuoso performance.

Noteworthy as the musical selections were, the star of the night was pianist Emanuel Ax, who joined the orchestra for a sparkling account of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2. A work Ax and Welser-Most have surely played 1,000 times received Saturday at Severance Hall another sweet, insightful reading.

This one stood out for its contrast, for its gentle tug-of-war between playful or fiery zeal and probing, supple elegance. Muscle and effervescence, along with animated support by the orchestra, defined the Allegro and Rondo, while in the Adagio, Ax spun out his tender lines with wondrous, bell-like clarity.

More of the latter was also what made his encore a treat. Coming from Ax, “In the Evening” from Schumann’s “Fantasy Pieces” Op. 12 served as the perfect nightcap, a fond, tender farewell.

Concert Review: Emanuel Ax and Milwaukee Symphony

By Elaine Schmidt

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

23 September 2016

Friday’s Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert was a feast of soulful music making.

The orchestra, playing under the baton of Music Director Edo de Waart, opened the morning’s program with a feisty, character-filled performance of Richard Strauss’ “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.”

De Waart and the orchestra gave Strauss’ programmatic piece a vivid, completely engaging, performance. From principal horn player Matthew Annin’s ringing horn lines to some beautifully executed, turn-on-a-dime shifts in character over the course of the piece, their performance was a highly evocative experience — a bit like hearing a film score and getting to imagine the scenes it should accompany.

Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen, who appeared the MSO’s “The Marriage of Figaro” performances last weekend, took the stage with a deeply stirring, beautifully crafted performance of Strauss’ “Four Last Songs.”

Willis-Sørensen mixed a warm, flexible sound with nimble, easy technical work, and fluid, expressive musical deliveries, supported beautifully by de Waart and the orchestra.

Pianist Emanuel Ax, who filled the program’s second half with Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, apparently is built to play Brahms. From a gentle singing sound to declamatory, sometimes almost defiant musical statements, his was a performance filled with expressive intent and nuance, and tremendous musical character.

Part of the joy of hearing Ax’s performance was watching him listen to and interact with de Waart and the orchestra. He nodded and moved to their music when he wasn’t playing, trading ideas and statements with them when he was.

MSO principal cellist Susan Babini gave an exquisite performance of the long, lyrical cello lines that are featured in the piece’s third movement.

When Ax returned to the stage to answer a standing ovation, he brought along a piece of music. He motioned for Babini to come forward, and the two offered an achingly beautiful rendition of the third movement of Chopin’s Cello Sonata.

Both players moved gracefully from melody to accompaniment and back again throughout the sonata, picking up each other’s musical ideas like old friends finishing each other’s sentences, and giving a moving performance one hated to see come to an end.