Johann Brahms and Emanuel Ax. You have never heard of them.
The two masters meet on the stage of Roy Thompson Hall, despite the fact that the former had been dead for over 200 years. The crowd reacts appropriately, ceasing immediately all emission of sound. Not even the crinkling of lozenge-wrappers can be heard. Ax seats himself with great sincerity in front of the ebony grand piano, its dust cover (removal having been forgotten) a dull patch against the luster of polished wood.
The conductor, who had been standing there all this time, makes a quick upwards thrust with his baton. The orchestra erupts into a powerful, striking motive carried by the strings. Momentum builds, only to die off into the haunting lyric strains of the ivories…
The first Brahms piano concerto is a momentous work. In one breath it both excites and moves the spirit, one moment dark and desperate, the next an idyllic sorrow. The piano writing is nothing short of dazzling, and Ax delivers without disappointment: technically flawless and artistically profound. The orchestra, under the baton of Peter Oundjian, breathes tone colours rich enough to drink with a spoon. Kudos especially to the brass, and most of all to the wonderful principal French horn for giving such clarity and vigour to tumultuous crescendos and fortissimo passages.
The audience must also be praised for being in such good health as well as not bringing small, bratty children. Hacking coughs were kept to a minimum, allowing this writer to stay focused on the music and not the spread of pathogens in the auditorium. Some criticism, however, falls to the lady two seats to the right, having blown her nose several times in the middle of the music. In addition, the stagehands were singularly careless: they had forgotten to remove the dust cover on the piano lid.
Brahms and Emanuel Ax made for a simply magical evening. I’m glad I didn’t spend it on chemistry.