A Power Trio Highlights Mendelssohn

Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma
The New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer

After celebrations of the Mendelssohn bicentennial last year, the spotlight has shifted to this year’s Schumann and Chopin anniversaries. But the pianist Emanuel Ax, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the violinist Itzhak Perlman shifted attention back to Mendelssohn for much of their “Live From Lincoln Center” broadcast from the Kaplan Penthouse on Wednesday evening.

These genial superstars, who interspersed their fine music- making with engaging commentary, opened the program with the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor, which Mr. Perlman described as a perfect example of the composer’s vivacious style. Many listeners, he added, consider Mendelssohn, a happy child prodigy who composed his marvelous String Octet at 16, a rival to Mozart in terms of teenage brilliance.

Mendelssohn was certainly a master of melody, a genius particularly evident in his “Songs Without Words.” Mr. Ax and Mr. Perlman offered a gracious performance of one of them (Op. 19, No. 1), and Mr. Ax and Mr. Ma, playing with a rich tone, followed with another (Op. 109).

For the Adagio from Mendelssohn’s Cello Sonata in D, Mr. Ma played the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius, the same instrument the Polish count and cellist Mateusz Wielhorski used to perform the work, with Mendelssohn in the audience. Mr. Ax and Mr. Ma offered a richly hued interpretation of the Adagio, whose chorale reflects Mendelssohn’s admiration of Bach.

The finale of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in C minor, a work here played complete, also quotes a chorale. The players’ passionate interpretation of the first movement earned lengthy applause.

The concert also featured several “Phantasiestücke” (“Fantasy Pieces”) by Schumann, who called Mendelssohn “the Mozart of the 19th century, the most illuminating of musicians.” Mr. Ax and Schumann share the same birthday, Mr. Ma pointed out, June 8. But Mr. Ax doesn’t have any “imaginary friends,” Mr. Ma added, referring to Schumann’s alter egos, Florestan and Eusebius.

Mr. Ax accompanied Mr. Perlman, who played with a sweet tone, in the “Phantasiestück” (Op. 73, No 1). Mr. Ma and Mr. Ax offered a vivid rendition of the first of Schumann’s “Fünf Stücke im Volkston” (“Five Pieces in Folk Style”).
Then it was back to Mendelssohn for the encore, the second movement of the D minor Trio, whose elegiac opening Mr. Ax performed beautifully.