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Emanuel Ax salutes bicentennial of Chopin, Schumann in Shriver Hall recital

Emanuel Ax salutes bicentennial of Chopin, Schumann in Shriver Hall recital

One of the most anticipated events on the local music calendar was Sunday's recital by Emanuel Ax for the

, his first appearance there in more than 30 years. I'd like to be able to report on the whole program, but I was stuck on Grammy watch at the Sun that day, waiting for word about Baltimore's representation among the assorted nominees -- the BSO (for its Bernstein "Mass" release) and the children's band Milkshake.

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Alas, neither won, which was bad news for them, and good news for me -- it meant that there was no story to write and I had a decent chance to hear at least some of Ax's playing.

By the time I got to Shriver, intermission was starting. Rats. But there still were some great items left in this program devoted to 2010's bicentennial boys, Schumann and Chopin, and the pianist had plenty of great music-making left, too.

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The two composers had a good deal in common -- relatively short lives, assorted ailments (physical and/or mental). And, musically speaking, an ability to take the piano into a whole new realm of color and expressive range, much of it packed into short forms. Most of the individual movements of, say, the "Fantasiestucke," Op. 12, by Schumann are only about three minutes long; Chopin's four Mazurkas, Op. 41, are that brief or briefer. But what worlds of poetry and feeling each creative burst opens up.

It's possible to find even more nuances in the

"Fantasiestucke" than Ax did, but he did marvelous things nonetheless, offering as much formidable technique as poetic sensitivity. I especially enjoyed the subtler passages. "Des Abends" floated on a gossamer tone; "Warum" sang out wistfully; the last chords of "Ende von Lied" were articulated with exquisite timing and finesse, each one reaching a lower, yet more compelling, pianissimo.

Those Mazurkas emerged a little less interestingly, though with unerring, patrician taste. Ax's affinity for the music of his fellow Pole shone through more vividly in his account of the "Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise." In less imaginative hands, both parts of this score can sound ever so slightly repetitive (dare I say tedious?), but Ax used delectable rhythmic freedom and a wide array of tone coloring to create an arresting performance. The surge of power at the end proved particularly effective.

And the A minor Waltz, Op. 34, No. 2, played as an encore, was beautifully delivered with what you might call a noble wistfulness.

BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTO

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