As high as expectations can be for an Emanuel Ax performance, the pianist went far beyond them Saturday night in San Antonio. It’s hard to imagine any orchestra having a more triumphant season-opening event than the San Antonio Symphony staged with Ax as the guest artist for Ludwig van Beethoven’s mighty Concerto No. 5, “Emperor.”
Ax revealed every side of his immense musicianship, starting with the authority of the grand theme in the concerto’s first movement. He displayed intense concentration, especially in the stormy middle passage of the movement.Grammy Award-winning Ax then unfolded the majestic finale with full command, throwing in a bit of whimsy at one point. The balance between the orchestra and the pianist was perfect. Ax’s combination of technique and expression revealed his talent at its peak. Ax rewarded the standing ovation from about 1,300 people at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts with a dreamy, swirling encore — Chopin’s Nocturne, Op. 15. No. 2.