I saw him play a concert in Chicago today. He played all Chopin and Schumann in commemoration of both composers' 200th birthdays this year. The program was as follows:
Chopin - Polonaise-Fantasy in A-flat Major, Op. 61
Chopin - Two Mazurkas, C Major Op. 24, no. 2 and C minor Op. 56, no. 3
Schumann - Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17
Schumann - Phantasiestücke Op. 12
Chopin - Mazurkas, Op. 41 - all four
Chopin - Andante spianato & Grande polonaise brillante Op. 22
I have never seen Ax play in person before, so I was looking forward to this concert - also because I knew ahead of time what he was scheduled to play. First thing that struck me when he began to play was his hand movements. He does this sort of jerky up and down thing before he hits on the keys - almost like he's aiming first - or like a tic. It wasn't all the time but it was fairly often. Not sure if that's normal for him or not - it sure didn't affect his playing. I thought he played with much grace and eloquence. The soft tones he produced were beautiful and at the same time deep. That may not make sense - it's like some chords could cut right through you even though they were played pianissimo. And he played fast and tiny notes so clean and delicately - I can only wish I could do half as well. Really, I'm thinking that maybe I should start practicing scales and arpeggios again!
Obviously, I enjoyed all the Chopin! I didn't hear any slips until he got to the Op. 41 Mazurkas. There was one fairly big clunker in one of them and some slips in the no. 1, which I know was hard for me to play when I recorded it, so thank you Mr. Ax - I feel a little better. But the Andante spianato & Grande polonaise brillante was...well...brilliant! A long time ago I became infatuated with that piece, like I did the Barcarolle, and thought I would learn it. Ha - forget it. It's too hard for me. But it's fun to actually 'see' someone play it live. Ax hit all those jumps, the octave runs, the trills, the arpeggios running everywhere - amazing! And amazing that people can actually do that! (wow - I'm still feeling it.)
The Schumann was very nice too. Of course I have heard the Op. 12 pieces many times (I like some of them - will have to put them on my 'to do' list), but I had not listened carefully to the Fantasy Op. 17 very much. Today I did, and I must say that I really loved it. Such interesting themes, harmonies, ideas, all of it...just beautiful!
He played only one encore piece (he had already played a ton of music though, so I'll forgive him
), and at the time I knew the piece. Now, my stupid brain has forgotten it. I know it was Chopin, and I thought it was another mazurka, but now I'm not sure because I just looked through my mazurka book and did not find it. So sorry, maybe it'll come to me later.
Ax seems like a friendly man - he smiled at the audience often. He wore a regular black suit with a dark blue shirt and purple-ish tie. Great music today!