Emanuel Ax, heard here twice last month (as soloist with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Chopin E minor Concerto and, in the same week, as a member of the Ax-Ma-Kim Trio at the University of Maryland), is 3l now, and has been a major factor in our musical life since winning the Rubinstein Competition in Israel six years ago.
In his carefully expanding discography, he has not rushed forth to record the Complete Works of Everybody, or even of Anybody, but has given a most winning impression of a serious and exceptionally communicative musician who is equally at home with Chopin, Beethoven or Ravel, with an orchestra or a string quartet, or on his own. Having heard him play a Mozart concerto in New York three years ago, I have been eager for a Mozart record from him and such a release is now on hand, a most generously filled disc on which Ax performs the familiar Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466, and the far less frequently heard No. 22 in E-flat, K. 482, with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under Eduardo Mata (RCA ARL1-3457).
In one of his earliest recordings, a Chopin collection for RCA, Ax showed himself to be one of the most poetic pianists of any age now before the public. This quality reasserts itself compellingly in these Mozart performances. The pianism is extremely brilliant and beautiful, and even in the most extroverted moments of these concertos every phrase seems to be sprung with extraordinary regard for its inner character -- within the context of the movement as a whole -- and both performances flow with what might be called a proprietary sense of spontaneity.
The union between soloist and orchestra is not all one might wish, though. That the solo and orchestral elements in a Mozart concerto should be contrasted in terms of inner drama is a more than respectable concept, but a conflict of basic interpretive approach is something else again. Ax and Mata are very much together in the darkly dramatic D minor, but the orchestral contribution in the E-flat ranges from perfunctory to an outright clash. Mata is heavy and unsubtle here; much of the orchestral playing is not only on a lower level than the pianist's but exudes a harshness quite at odds with his poetic realization of the solo part.
Some of the harsh effect might have been chalked up to the recording, for this side plays more than 36 minutes -- but the sound of the piano itself is limpid on both sides and there is really no feeling of congestion. This disc was expected in a digital edition; a fragment of K. 466, in fact, was issued earlier as part of an RCA digital sampler (XRCl-3624), but the present release is from an analog master.
Murray Perahia's recent recording of K. 482, in which he conducts from the keyboard (Columbia M 35869), shows a happier integration of piano and orchestra, but not a more distinguished execution of the solo part than we have from Ax, whose superb playing is beyond comparison, Ax's contribution includes his own very persuasive cadenzas in K. 482 (in K. 466 he plays Beethoven's in the first movement, Hummel's in the second); and in addition to the convenience of having that long work complete on a single side, there is a substantial bonus in the form of Irving Kolodin's splendid annotation. I would hope for more Mozart concertos from Ax, with more sympathetic orchestral support, but his part of this release makes it a treasure despite its flaws.
Not long ago I happened to hear Ax with Jeffrey Siegel and John Browning in a Bach triple concerto. Siegel, seven years older than Ax and the winner of some major piano prizes, has recorded far less, and the loss has been ours. He may be heard now in a collection of Rachmaninoff solo pieces on a new Denon digital release (OX-7l89-ND). In this assortment are the transcriptions of Kreisler's "Liebesfreud" and "Liebesleid," three of the etudes-tableaux, and eight preludes representing all three sets.
Siegel's style is well-suited to this material. It is big, enthusiastic, warm-toned, highly communicative, romantic in the best sense -- taste being as instinctive to him as enthusiasm. These are elegant performances; even the notorious C-sharp minor Prelude is both dignified and convincing. One may be disappointed to find the big G minor Prelude, Op. 23, No. 5, missing from this collection, but surely it will turn up in a subsequent one. The sound itself is sheer perfection.