Grand Finale with Ax and Beethoven

I hardly know where to begin with Sunday’s Grand Finale with Ax and Beethoven. My mind is overflowing with thoughts and feelings that I brought home with me from this spectacular concert. It was an absolutely perfect program as the PSO performed the concert that closed out the 2010-2011 BNY Mellon Grand Classics Season. There seemed to be a theme of the music choices as we heard three B’s: Braunfels, Beethoven, and Brahms. It was also a performance of fourths: Honeck conducted Brahms’ fourth symphony, and Emanuel Ax performed Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. The opening selection: Braunfel’s “Fantastic Appearances on a Theme by Hector Berlioz” was wonderful. The whole piece had a quality and feeling of a chase. The few docile/calmer parts were the parts in the chase when you could imagine one stopping to catch their breath. Each section of the orchestra seemed to be trading off to each other so each section could give their input. It is always a joy to watch Maestro Honeck lead the orchestra with his never dying enthusiasm and vigor that he so fabulously presents and conveys.

The highlight of this superb concert was pianist Emmanuel Ax displaying his artistic skills on Beethoven’s Concerto No.4 in G Major. His entrance and presence on stage, and exit off stage filled the entire hall with his sweet persona. He let off a glow. Ax, such an artist and master of the piano seemed to fully enjoy his performance. He truly became the piano (or at least an enormous part), as opposed to simply playing the piano. The first notes were so effortless and graceful as the orchestra seemed to mimic the beginning notes which elaborated further into a theme only Beethoven could compose. It was mesmerizing to observe the speed at which Mr. Ax’s fingers traveled up and down the keys. The innumerable amount of notes he played in perfect timing were simply amazing. Combine Beethoven and Ax = sheer perfection. Often times I prefer the slower sections in a solo piece rather than the more brilliant and showy sections, but I don’t think there was any room for preference here. ALL was certainly pleasing to the ear. So artistic. So imaginative. One cannot fully fathom the genius of Beethoven. The end of Mr. Ax’s stunning performance was certainly not shallow in applause as he graciously showered us with an encore. I do not know the name or the composer of the piece he chose, but I do know that it was filled with cascading melodies that sang into Heinz Hall and the audience’s ears and minds.

Moving on to the captivating, meaningful and transporting Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E Minor. The first notes of Brahms’ by the strings I must say started as though in mid thought as if I’d come in the middle of the phrase, but elaborated and echoed beautifully as the acoustics of the hall so willingly lent the orchestra to do. And of course there was the beautiful ringing quality that echoed off of walls in the hall that the PSO never ceases to fail in producing. The first movement had an excellent climax. The start of the second movement is so serene, and awakening. The pizzicato (a note or passage played by plucking strings) was so warm. As the strings fully emerged I must say tears were brought to my eyes at such pure sparkling beauty with the lilting sections as the horns and woodwinds, joined in the conversation. Sheer magic. It was so neat to watch the entire string section in unison doing the martelé bowstroke (literally “hammered,” is a bowstroke, used when playing bowed string instruments) together. They played with such passion. As the movements progressed I felt that they in a way contradicted themselves. For example, the first movement was more sad, the second movement awakening, the third more lively, and the fourth had a bit of all. I would think of the fourth as a summarized version of the first three movements. All compositions are lucid insides to a composer’s soul, even if only a slight opening. And as I am so adamant about, reading the program notes greatly enhances the performance and your understanding for the work being performed.

I will conclude this lovely afternoon of music by saying this: Classical music has the uncanny ability to arrest your senses, only allowing a few (such as hearing and feeling) to take in the magnificent music.

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