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CONCERT REVIEW: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

by Suzanne Yanko

The MSO billed this concert Emmanuel Ax plays Chopin, an honest piece of advertising as – although there were two other pieces – the concerto was the drawcard. And you couldn’t be disappointed. Despite minor quibbles (the orchestra could have had a tighter entry to the opening movement of the concerto, for example), this was music as the composer surely intended it: lyrical, powerful and executed with exceptional musicality. The soloist, Polish-born Emmanuel Ax, moved to Canada with his family as a young boy, went to the Juilliard School and first came to public notice in 1974 when, aged 25, he won the first Arthur Rubenstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv. So it was interesting that his rendition of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 was as close to the great Rubenstein’s style as I have heard. At the very least, Ax appeared to fit naturally into a tradition of great European pianists who made their reputation in the years after World War 11, whose recordings graced many LP collections and are now heard by a new generation on “historic” CD re-masterings. But this was fresh, vital playing from a pianist who well understood that he was on centre stage, with the orchestra – however fine – there to enhance the sound of the solo instrument. Chopin’s two piano concertos are written this way, making the listener wish that an orchestra had been featured much more often in his compositions. In a very polished performance, some moments were particularly noteworthy: the luminous beauty of the piano entry in the second movement, and the polished yet rigorous manner in which Ax moved towards the conclusion of the work. Unfair as it may seem to a fine orchestra and its soloists – with winds much in evidence throughout this concert – nothing could match the experience of the central work. Frank Bridge’s suite for orchestra, The Sea, was a pleasant, but unmemorable, curtain-raiser, and it was surprising to read in the program notes that the young Benjamin Britten was “”knocked sideways’’ by his contemporary’s work. In this, and the more substantial Sibelius Symphony No.5 which ended the program, young conductor Robin Ticciata did well to draw enthusiasm and fine playing from the MSO. It was a nice touch that he took his bows from among the strings section (instead of bounding back to the podium), emphasizing the partnership between musicians that had been a feature of the night. 2008 MSO – Great Classics: Emanuel Ax plays Chopin the Arts Centre, Hamer Hall, Melbourne, VIC Mon 16 Jun 2008, 08:00 PM

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