Emmanuel Ax – Schubert, Liszt, and some Chopin

Tonight (Thursday) with D to hear Emmanuel Ax in recital for the SSO at Angel Place.

There was a change from the originally advertised program, which in addition to the Schubert (this remained unchanged) promised (rather open-endedly) Chopin, “selected works.”

Instead we got, to take it all together:

SCHUBERT Four Impromptus, D935
LISZT Vallée d’Obermann
SCHUBERT Sonata in A, D664
LISZT Petrarch Sonnet No.123
LISZT Mephisto Waltz No.1

It was all very good playing, so any criticism is really nit-picking and much of it is really a question of taste.

I have been more moved by versions of the impromptus which have a more melancholy edge – this was all rather surrey-with-the-fringe-on-top sleigh-bells and music-boxy. Give me a touch more of the Leiermann any day.

The Vallée d’Obermann is not my favourite Liszt, so I can’t really put a finger on what I would have wanted Ax to do differently.

The Schubert sonata had the melancholy which I would have preferred to hear in the Impromptus, so perhaps it is fairer to say that Ax was saving that mood up for this piece. I have played the sonata, so there were lots of points to savour, such as Ax’s rhythmic freedom to accommodate ornamentation, or the way in the last movement where in a series of ff chords Ax drew back ever so slightly from the last of them to give a hint of a feminine ending and to prepare for what was to come. I’ve also played the Petrarch sonnet, but the Schubert was my favourite of the advertised program.

There is something about Ax’s style, which favours a certain, even comfortable, smoothness. It is always beautiful, but at the point of the shuddering chords which are interpolated near the end of the Mephisto Waltz I all of a sudden remembered Stephen Hough’s performance last year which was more dramatic and more exciting.

Ax played two encores: the Chopin Nocturne in f Op 15 No 1 and a waltz (Op 34 No 1 I think but they all blur together a bit for me). Ax has a bit of a reputation as a Chopin player and these were perhaps the best playing of the night. To tell the truth, I’d probably rather have heard his Chopin than his Liszt. Which seems a pretty curmudgeonly thing to say, I know.

2 Responses to “Emmanuel Ax – Schubert, Liszt, and some Chopin”

  1. SIPCA 5 - The first cut « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] by Ryan McEvoy McCullough’s Schubert Impromptu (and take back some of my criticism of Emmanuel Ax’s, which I know is rather an unfair comparison) but liked his Magin studies. Chun-Chieh Yen […]

  2. Club Troppo » Missing Link Daily Says:

    […] reviews a SSO concert with piano soloist Emmanuel Ax who he considers a bit of a girly ivory tinkler, but almost certainly disagrees with Mao Tse Tung […]

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