Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"Live from Lincoln Center": Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, Perlman: Mendelssohn and Schumann

On PBS’s “Live from Lincoln Center”, Emanuel Ax, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman perform at the Lincoln Center's Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. Alan Alda hosts; it was broadcast on WETA at 10 PM May 5.


The program contained a lot of music by Mendelssohn and Schumann. The artists started with the scherzo from the Mendelssohn D Minor trio and then played two Songs without Words. The main website for the broadcast is here.

The main work of the program is Mendelssohns C Minor Piano Trio, Op 66, which has that wonderful gentle violence that is more familiar to me in the Symphony #1 in C Minor (the rabid fugal conclusion of which I love). The artists discuss Mendelssohn’s attachment to Bach, and evolution of a romantic style that somehow jumps over the meat of Beethoven and Schubert. When I took piano (mainly in the 1950s), our teacher characterized Mendelssohn and his music as "happy". The C Minor trio does end in a triumphant Major (as does the Scotch Symphony) but sometimes Mendelssohn keeps us in minor at the end (the "Italian", and several other chamber works. 

The trio played the slow movement from the D Minor Trio as an encore.

Ax plays one of the Schumann Fantasiestücke Op.12, and then the trio play other pieces adapted from this and from the Volkston, Op 102. Some are gentle, and some are with fury. Ax characterizes Schumann as “shy”, as if a curious reference to the new “Shy and Mighty” album due May 18 from Nonesuch for composer Tim Andres (this blog March 20, 2010 has the link).

Literature refers to Robert Schumann has having been manic-depressive or bipolar; the manic energy certainly comes out in the runaway finale of the D Minor Symphony (#4), but my favorite Schumann is the Second (a favorite of Leonard Bernstein, in its “original orchestration”) in C Major, a “symphony that talks to itself” but justifies the grandeur at the end from the natural simplicity of the secondary theme that generates the closing climax. What a magnificent idea for the orchestral postlude for the closing credits of the right movie (maybe mine).

Ax also did a brief demonstration with some music from Brahms's First Piano Concerto.

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