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COMPOSERS: Liszt/Schoenberg
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat; Piano Concerto No. 2 in A; Piano Concerto
PERFORMER: Emanuel Ax (piano)Philharmonia Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen
Each of these concertos compresses the traditional four movements into one, binding them together by the cyclic recurrence of themes. Liszt’s E flat concerto is a tour de force. His main idea is capable of assuming almost any shape, like Schoenberg’s tone-row, but contrasting ideas are introduced, rhetorically, just when they are needed. Ax and Salonen have the measure of its brilliance, wit and mock-diabolism; I have heard more daring and warmer performances, but Liszt’s argument benefits from a little austerity. The A major concerto is only less successful because Liszt’s alla marcia transformation of his lovely opening idea is, in the absence of a programme, inexplicably gross.


Schoenberg’s concerto is one of his most approachable serial works (the writer of the eccentric booklet notes is surely wrong to proclaim it difficult). Octaves being natural to the piano, Schoenberg rescinded his customary ban on writing them, and the music constantly hints at, and finally attains, a tonal resolution. The cyclic design is more traditional than Liszt’s; Schoenberg offers more obvious contrast between movements, and the return of the main theme in the finale is Brahmsian, like much of the texture. The performance has many virtues, although I prefer the Brendel-Kubelik version (DG) for its greater warmth and flexibility. Julian Rushton