Arts » Classical Music

ISO opens with two war horses

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Pianist Emanuel Ax
  • Pianist Emanuel Ax

Even though Friday's concert was the first in the 2015-2016 season, the orchestra celebrates its "Opening Night Gala" at 6 p.m. on Sept. 26. You tell me how. A Beethoven piano concerto paired with a Mozart Symphony for a two-hour concert! Hard to believe, granting that we heard Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto (No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73) coupled with Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G Minor. K. 550. While the "Emperor" is the longest in the genre written up to that time (1809) at nearly 45 minutes, all Mozart symphonies can be played at less than half an hour.

But when Krzysztof Urbański tackled the Mozart 40th, he observed all the possible repeats, including the first movement exposition, the second movement's exposition and its development-and-recap plus both of those sections in the fourth movement; it added up to slightly over 35 minutes. Starting at 8:05 and counting the 20-minute intermission, the concert concluded at 9:55 which gave the approximately two thirds filled Circle Theatre a full program.

Though Beethoven's Op. 73 is easily the grandest concerto conception written to that date, it is exceeded in lyric profundity by his No. 4 in G, Op. 58. Its long, drawn-out first movement also lacks the musical density which Mozart compressed into his K. 550, including all the repeats. Still, the concerto is a winning choice when it has a seasoned interpreter.

At 66, Emanuel Ax has lost none of the power his fingers commanded of the keyboard, giving the "Emperor" as sturdy a reading as we are apt to find. His tempo nuances were subtle, his dynamics well controlled, Ax occasionally gave us a bit too much pedal on his scale runs, but articulated his high register figurations well, with nary a slip. Our performers took the Rondo finale, marked Allegro ma non troppo, at too measured a pace, robbing it of some of its sparkle. Still the applause was thunderous, prompting Ax to give us an encore, "Des Abends," the first number in a group of Schumann Fantasy Pieces (Fantasiest├╝cke), Op. 12.

Mozart's K. 550 is one of his three greatest symphonies, the other two being the "Prague" (No. 38 in D, K. 504) and the "Jupiter" (No. 41 in C, K. 551). Scarcely behind them is No. 39 in E-flat, K.543, which seems to get fewer performances. K. 550's outer two movements drive with agitation, but Urbański made them seem more like a limpid stream with soft, overlapping phrases . . . His approach was convincing, even unto taking the Minuet movement more slowly than usual. Sept. 18; Hilbert Circle Theatre

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