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Music Review

Pianist Ax, Ensemble Deliver Some Surprises

May 08, 2000|JOHN HENKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In chamber music programs at three different venues this month, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and friends are leading a sweep through the Central European Romantic tradition. They are not always rounding up the usual suspects, however. Friday, at the Colburn School's Zipper Hall, pianist Emanuel Ax and a contingent of the Philharmonic's front desk string players turned to Mendelssohn and Dvorak, but not the obvious choices.

Mendelssohn composed two piano trios, although the second--Opus 66, in C minor--has languished in the shadow of the beloved Opus 49 in D minor. Both are stirring works of characteristic lyric charm and instrumental sparkle. The second may be a little quirkier in gesture and a little less idealized in melody than the first, but its rewards are fresh and real.

As a concerto protagonist and a chamber music colleague, Ax is well known to Philharmonic audiences, with the acquaintance renewed almost every season. He brought his customary warmth, musicality and keen team spirit to the C-minor trio.

His complementary Philharmonic partners were associate concertmaster Bing Wang and assistant principal cellist Ben Hong. They added abundant resources of rich tone and lithe energy to the mix, balanced in sound and expression.

In this context, the anticipated Dvorak would probably be the evergreen Quintet in A. What we got was the no less luscious and hardly unknown Quartet in E flat, which Ax has recorded on a new Sony CD with Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo and Yo-Yo Ma.

Here, Ax was working with principal concertmaster Martin Chalifour, principal violist Evan Wilson and associate principal cellist Daniel Rothmuller in a tight, interactive environment. They filled the outer movements with high passion and occasionally gruff sound, reaching for the most space-expanding sound possible. The performance rang most true, however, in the quieter ardor and sly, folksy humor of the inner movements.

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