CLASSICAL CORNER
EMANUEL AX/ EVGENY KISSIN/ MAXIM VENGEROV/ 
JULIA FISCHER/ BENJAMIN ZANDER - JULY, 2007


By Lawrence Budmen

In 1975 a young student at New Yorkís esteemed Julliard School of Music was soloist in Johannes Brahmsí Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor with the old Miami Beach Symphony Orchestra. Anyone who attended that concert more than three decades ago knew that a pianistic talent of the highest order had debuted with flying colors. Within a few short years, Emanuel Ax became an icon of the global classical music circuit. As a byproduct of the recent merger of the BMG and Sony record labels, a new two disc set offers Axís masterful performances of both Brahms concertos (www.Sonybmgmasterworks.com). 

Just this past season Ax returned to Miami for a fleetly incandescent rendition of Mozartís Piano Concerto No.22, deftly supported by Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony. Combining probing intellect, powerfully formidable keyboard technique, and an awesome grasp of structure and idiomatic nuance, Ax is indeed an artist supreme. The new recording combines his muscular 1983 version of that same Brahms D minor concerto he played in Miami long ago (with the brilliantly steely Chicago Symphony of the Solti era under the baton of James Levine Ė originally issued on BMG/RCA Red Seal) with a magisterial performance of Brahmsí magnum Concerto No.2 in B-flat Major, a Sony recording. Axís synthesis of power pounding dynamism, elegantly spun sense of light and shade, and combustible romanticism ignites this sprawling, passionate opus. Under the spacious baton of Bernard Haitink, the Boston Symphonyís silky strings and darkly burnished winds conjure up an authentic Brahmsian sonority. Like previous recordings of these scores by Rudolf Serkin, Clifford Curzon, and Artur Rubinstein, these performances are state of the pianistic art, the musical gold standard. As a bonus, the set features Axís lyrical ruminations on Brahmsí solo Intermezzos and Rhapsodies. A great recording! 

Evgeny Kissinís May recital at the Carnival Center was one of the great concerts of the past season. Our modern day Vladimir Horowitz, the reclusive Kissin is captured at his incendiary best in a live BMG/Sony disc of Chopinís Polonaises and Impromptus from the 2004 Verbier Festival. Kissinís Chopin eschews salon prettiness in favor of big boned, exciting keyboard fireworks. This is playing of the legendary variety but definitely not for the faint at heart. 

Without doubt Maxim Vengerov is the most dazzlingly talented of the new generation of Russian violin virtuosos. His Broward Center recital this past season was marked by playing of flawless technical agility and subtle musicality. His Mozart was particularly enchanting, meltingly beautiful in finely spun long melodic arcs. Vengerovís Mozart album on EMI Classics (www.Emiclassics.com) is a huge disappointment. His heavy handed, plodding versions of the master from Salzburgís Violin Concertos Nos. 2 and 4 and Sinfonia Concertante (with the stellar British violist Lawrence Power) are accompanied by the lackluster Verbier Festival Orchestra. This is powdered wig Mozart, lacking charm or ingratiating verve. 

By contrast the 24 year old German born violinist Julia Fischer is a model of Mozartean style in a wonderful new cd on the high end audiophile label PentaTone Classics (www.Pentatonemusic.com). In 2004 Fischer gave a spectacular bravura performance of Sibeliusí daunting Violin Concerto in Miami with the Dresden Philharmonic under the formidable Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos. Fischerís fleet, aristocratic performances of Mozartís Violin Concertos Nos.1, 2, and 5 resound with ťlan, clarity and light hearted insouciance. She is given stellar support by the renowned Netherlands Chamber Orchestra under the lively direction of Yakov Kreizberg (the gifted brother of the famous Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov). Fischer and Kreizberg add a harpsichord to the instrumentation of the first two concertos with felicitous results. Captured in vivid, spectacular sound, this recording is a musical treat. 

Like Franz Welser-Mostís luminous performance with the Cleveland Orchestra this season at the Carnival Center, the British born, Boston based conductor Benjamin Zander leads a Mahler First Symphony (Titan) that stresses delicacy rather than bombast on a Telarc release (www.Telarc.com). A podium cult figure, Zander brings visionary zeal to Mahlerís path breaking symphonic vistas. The pastoral Vienesse lyricism of the opening movement, the bucolic vigor of the peasant dance and charm of the landler in the second, and the klezmer band riffs of the third are masterfully paced. Zander never allows the heroic finale to become overpowering. His Mahler is imbued with warmth and humanity rather than firepower. The darkly burnished strings, refined woodwinds, and gleaming brass of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London deliver a terrific display of orchestral virtuosity. There are two bonuses: baritone Christopher Maltman offers a warm voiced, subtly inflected version of Mahlerís Songs of a Wayfarer and Zander presents an illuminating lecture on Mahler and his inspirations in nature, fate, and the Wunderhorn lieder. For the legendary Philharmonia sound and the work of an important conductor, this recording is a bona fide event!


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