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Robert Beattie
MusicWeb International, September 2012

In these performances [Emmanuel Ax] demonstrates all the qualities that have made him such a consummate all-round performer and musician. He displays enormous variety of tone not to mention his refined and elegant phrasing and rubato. There’s also that superb technical ability and digital articulation when required.

He starts with the Humoreske…A gorgeous tone is conjured from the Steinway in the dreamy opening and the melody is delineated with great sensitivity and refinement. The ensuing sehr rasch und leicht section is played with rhythmic vitality and flair. The third section is very well executed while the Innig fourth section is played with evident warmth and humanity. Some of the playing in the penultimate section is extremely fine…The phrasing in the final section was immaculate with Ax relishing the rich harmonies.

I preferred Ax’s interpretation of the Fantasiestucke set which, for my money, was played with much greater musical insight and imagination. Des Abends is played with poetic sensibility. The figurations unfold naturally and with grace. There’s vigour and drive in Aufschwung which is allowed to soar with energy coursing through some of the figurations. There’s an authoritative Grillen in which artful rubato lays bare the whimsical and quirky nature of the piece. It’s wonderfully characterised. The whimsical narrative at the heart of Fabel is beautifully conveyed while the whirling figurations of Traumes Wirren are dispatched with virtuoso élan. Schumann described Ende vom Lied as a combination of wedding bells and funeral bells. Ax gives it muscularity and invests the huge chords with a radiant tonal warmth. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Paul Pelkonen
Superconductor, May 2012

The concert opened with Copland’s 1930 Piano Variations. Mr. Ax produced open chords that hung, slab-like in the air, alternating with difficult descending intervals as he explored the unique sound-world of this piece.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Third Symphony (the ‘Eroica’) is a titan of the orchestral repertory…

This set of variations finds Beethoven taking that bass theme to its logical extremes, reworking it as a bright and perky match, a grim slow movement, and that jaw-dropping fugue where Beethoven shows his stunning mastery of the art of keyboard counterpoint. Mr. Ax navigated all of these pitfalls without flaw, driving the theme forward with his shoulders and playing Beethoven in a muscular, cheerful style that sparkled with vitality.

Mr. Ax showed tremendous technical skill in these works, whether crossing hands to play a tricky pattern of notes or careening down the keyboard in the more florid passages.

For this performance, Mr. Ax chose three works from a posthumous set of Etudes that were salvaged from Schumann’s papers by his friend and protegé Johannes Brahms. These works are more reflective than the earlier Etudes, and serve as contemplative rest stops on the long uphil journey. The summit and final variation finds Schumann turning to a theme from a now-obscure opera, Marschner’s Der Templer und die Judin, transforming it into a heroic carillon that celebrates the final transformation of the original theme into a triumph over adversity.

…Mr. Ax offered an engaging pair of Romantic waltzes: Franz Liszt’s dreamy Valse oubliée No. 1 and Chopin’s robust, beloved Grand Waltz in E♭. © 2012 Superconductor Read complete review

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, May 2012

Schumann’s Humoreske and Fantasiestücke are among the composer’s many beloved pieces for solo piano and certainly not in want of fine recordings. But I’m a longtime Emanuel Ax admirer, having been especially impressed by his Brahms…

Schumann is different. Mainly a miniaturist in his solo piano works, he creates larger forms by stringing together sequences of poetic sketches or pièces caracteristiques . Clearly, that’s the case with the eight numbers that make up the Fantasy Pieces of op. 12, inspired by a series of novellas by E. T. A. Hoffmann. The literary narratives give Schumann the opportunity to compose a set of short pieces that both contrast and combine his lyrical, poetic dreamer, Eusebius, with his unbridled passionate character, Florestan.

The plural title, Fantasiestücke, tells us to expect a work made up of separate pieces. Not so the singular-titled Humoreske…is a multimovement mélange of six mostly short episodes that exhibit rapid and dramatic mood swings between the melancholic and the excitable.

Ax possesses…ability to shift colors, chameleon-like, in response to the music’s ever-changing moods, and to make the contrasts between the most intimate poetics and the most explosive dramatics sound as if extemporized.

This is beautifully played Schumann and in a recording that need make no apology for its age. More recent releases of this repertoire may enjoy a slight edge in state-of-the-art sound, but none that I’ve heard are any more musically satisfying than this one. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Alan Becker
American Record Guide, March 2012

beautifully handled by Ax, who fully understands the oddities of the composer’s rubato…The better-known Fantasiestucke will also delight the listener. Ax’s ‘Des Abends’ is graceful in its quiet flow…The sound is…good… © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

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6:11:35 AM, 4 May 2015
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