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Liszt: Piano Concertos 1 & 2 - Emmanuel Ax, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Philharmonia Orchestra

Liszt: Piano Concertos 1 & 2 - Emmanuel Ax, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Philharmonia Orchestra

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Originally coupled with Schoenberg's Piano Concerto, Emanuel Ax's recordings of Liszt's two concertos re-emerge more sensibly alongside the same composer's B minor sonata. Both Ax and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen work overtime to make these often bandied-about concertos sound like the tightly knit compositions they are, as opposed to virtuoso showpieces where anything goes, so to speak. Ax's sane, unflappable, big-hearted virtuosity is an absolute joy to behold, especially in a musical context that takes Liszt's cannily integrated tempo relationships and specific expressive directives on faith. Yet there's plenty of power and panache, helped by Salonen's outstanding podium work. Only a few patches of sour-toned brass in the first concerto's finale qualify my otherwise total endorsement. Likewise, Ax never displays anything less than world-class, beautifully modulated pianism and clear-headed musicianship in the B minor sonata. Perhaps he doesn't quicken the pulse, run the fullest dynamic gambit, nor take the boldest chances on the level of Arrau, Argerich, Richter, or the young Horowitz; but that's not Ax's way. Listeners who admire Arthur Rubinstein's similarly centrist interpretation or Yundi Li's recent version for DG will equally welcome this solid 1992 performance.

Franz Liszt: Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra in E-flat Major, S. 124
Allegro maestoso
Quasi Adagio
Allegretto vivace - Allegro animato
Allegro marziale animato

Franz Liszt: Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra in A Major
Adagio sostenuto assai - Allegro agitato assai
Allegro moderato
Allegro deciso - Marziale un poco meno Allegro
Allegro animato

Franz Liszt: Sonata in B minor
Lento assai - Allegro energico
Andante sostenuto
Allegro energico

Emanuel Ax (piano)
Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa Pekka Salonen