Lintu, Ax collaborate brilliantly with SLSO

11.05.10
Emanuel Ax
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

By Sarah Bryan Miller

This weekend's concerts by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra feature two outstanding artists: an up-and-coming conductor, Hannu Lintu, and a legend of the piano, Emanuel Ax. Together with the orchestra, they made beautiful music indeed.

Lintu, one of the seemingly endless supply of brilliant musicians to emerge from Finland in recent years, looks a little bit like a well-dressed Ichabod Crane: he's tall and thin, with long limbs, a long torso, long fingers and a long head topped by slightly spiky hair.

On Friday morning he demonstrated complete command over his instrument, the orchestra, communicating with its members clearly and eliciting a luminous, lovely sound throughout the program.

Ax is altogether rounder and non-spiky, and no less in command over his instrument. He has lived with Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor for many years, but long acquaintance with this familiar work has not diminished his commitment to the music.

Together, Lintu and Ax gave it a dynamic reading. The first movement was vivid, filled with drama and energy; its conclusion was thrilling. The second movement was as gentle, graceful and serene as the first was energetic.

The third movement was notable for the shimmering playing of the violins, and for the exciting conclusion it provided to the concert.

Ax was completely engaged with Lintu and the orchestra, for a real collaboration. It wasn't all note-perfect, but it still constituted an excellent advertisement for the advantages of hearing live music, rather than depending upon reproductions.

Some in the audience deliberately arrived late, appearing at the intermission, and heard only the Brahms. They missed a fine performance of the first half's beautiful work, "Le Baiser de la fée (The Fairy's Kiss)," by Igor Stravinsky.

This is uncharacteristic Stravinsky, a broadly appealing, gently agreeable ballet score from 1928. Commissioned by the dancer Ida Rubenstein, it's based on music by Tchaikovsky, without a moment of dissonance or snark in its entire length.

In its marriage of two such different composers, "Fairy's Kiss" is an odd but highly listenable hybrid, filled with beautiful melodies, and lovely, transparent harmonies. There are humorous moments; there is writing that is almost achingly sweet.

Lintu made a strong case for it, with translucent playing in the strings and woodwinds and great work by the brass.

It's also a showcase for the orchestra's soloists, and Lintu was generous with well-deserved solo bows for, among others, principal horn Roger Kaza and his section, principal flute Mark Sparks and principal cello Daniel Lee.