One of the world’s greatest pianists, Emanuel Ax, made his first Lied Center for Performing Arts appearance Sunday. A crowd of 900 heard two Beethoven sonatas and two Franz Schubert masterpieces.
Of Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Opus 13” and the “Sonata, Opus 2, No. 2 in A Major,” the C-minor work is less familiar. The Schubert “Sonata in B-flat Major” which Ax presented after intermission, is heard occasionally.
From the outset of Beethoven's C-minor sonata, Ax demonstrated his command of contrasts. Deftly able to change mood almost from note to note, Ax moved smoothly among the many loud and soft sections in the first movement, paying attention to classical restraint.
A confident, restful rendering of the work’s largo movement changed instantly with the scherzo. Ax recognized Beethoven’s “Allegretto” tempo with curtailed and pleasing flourishes. The maestro breezed easily into the concluding Rondo sections, to the audience’s delight,
The “Sonata No. 8” is the well-known “Pathetiique,” and where better to find an incomparable rendering than on the Lied stage with Ax? Ax’s tempo contrast between the Largo opening and the Allegro passages that follow was just as marked as his dynamic variations.
The famous Adagio cantabile second movement as rendered by Ax has few peers. The artistic mastery of steady tempo and dynamic restraint glued the surrounding movements together with the flux of a seasoned craftsman.
Maestro Ax’s rendering of the Schubert sonata held patrons spellbound. Again, it was the contrasts from forte to pianissimo and the great flexibility of tempo within phrases that wooed the audience into universal acceptance. The change from the sustained phrases in the andante movement to the searing triplets of the scherzo brought big smiles to patrons' faces.
After the convincing final Allegro movement, patrons came to their feet, cheering and whistling for the master’s performance. Ax, smiling, returned to the piano. “It’s another Schubert,” he said, and the encore was the lovely “Impromptu in A-flat Major,” Opus 142.
Somehow, in its excellent performing arts schedules, the Lied Center missed Ax until this year. With Sunday’s exhibition of such masterful technique, the noted impresario’s return should be swift and just as inviting.