"Mr. Ax showed ample technique, and much of what he did was limpid."
"The Mendelssohn has more élan, and more cohesiveness [than the Prokofiev]."
Now, I've looked up "limpid" before, but at some point, I lost its meaning. When I hear "limpid," I think of ... well, limp things. I think of wishy-washy. I think of Pliable from Pilgrim's Progress. (The GRE and SAT designers, of course, would take full advantage of this mind-picture and ensure that I got the the limpid vocabulary question wrong). Still, I imagine Mr. Ax's hands flowing gracefully over the keyboard, but weakly, without a lot of force. Limply. Sort of the annoying, wormy way that some people (no! not I!) play Chopin. I was especially confused, as the review was of Ax's performance of a Chopin Piano Concerto.
And "élan"? Isn't that a kind of egg-rich, custard-filled or cheese-filled tart? The Prokofiev lacked a certain ... rich creaminess? The audience failed to "egg" it on? It was but the "shell" of a performance, with no real life to it?
Sadly, "élan" is yet another word I've looked up before. Its meaning must have slipped out the last time my head exploded. That happens sometimes.
So. Emmanuel Ax's playing was weak and delicate, but the Prokofiev that preceded it was not adequately rich and creamy. Which made the entire concert a bit like a Weight Watcher's cheesecake--disappointing and ultimately unsatisfying.
Or so it was, according to my poor grasp of vocabulary.
As it turns out, I was somewhat wrong about both words (though Nordlinger does give the impression that the concert was, like that cheesecake, disappointing and ultimately unsatisfying).
Here are the correct definitions, compliments of Bartleby.com:
LIMPID (adj.) Characterized by transparent clearness; pellucid. See synonyms at clear. 2. Easily intelligible; clear: writes in a limpid style. 3. Calm and untroubled; serene.
ETYMOLOGY: Latin limpidus (clear, liquid)
QUOTATIONS: The heart of the wise man lies quiet like limpid water. (Cameroonian proverb)(I know I didn't need to include the entire Cather quote, but it was just so delicious that I couldn't help it. Perhaps it tastes the way élan would taste in my vocabularic universe.)
THERE a little unpretending Rill
Of limpid water, humbler far than aught
That ever among Men or Naiads sought
Notice or name! (Wordsworth)
There were no clouds, the sun was going down in a limpid, gold-washed sky. Just as the lower edge of the red disk rested on the high fields against the horizon, a great black figure suddenly appeared on the face of the sun. We sprang to our feet, straining our eyes toward it. In a moment we realized what it was. On some upland farm, a plough had been left standing in the field. The sun was sinking just behind it. Magnified across the distance by the horizontal light, it stood out against the sun, was exactly contained within the circle of the disk; the handles, the tongue, the share—black against the molten red. There it was, heroic in size, a picture writing on the sun. (Willa Cather, My Antonia)
Speaking of élan ...
ELAN: (NOUN) 1. Enthusiastic vigor and liveliness. 2. Distinctive style or flair.
According to the Bartleby.com pronunciation guy, "élan" sort of rhymes with "c'est bon."
ETYMOLOGY: French, from Old French eslan, rush, from eslancer, to hurl : es-, out (from Latin ex-; see ex–) + lancer, to throw (from Late Latin lancere, to throw a lance, from Latin lancea, lance).
Here are some quotes from a random Google search (italics all mine):
From a review of the Hartford Symphony: "It wasn't a perfect performance of the symphony. The strings and winds weren't together in the first movement's Allegro moderato and there was a wrong entrance in the grandiose finale. One also wishedSo, élan is often used, apparently, when referencing musical performances.
that Cumming would loosen up still more, in sympathy with the music's sweep and élan."
From another review: "Trpceski’s performances are extraordinarily pure, even in the most challenging opuses, but he also plays with exceptional élan and elegance.”
And it does sort of imply a certain deliciousness, a certain appealing "bite." And you know what? A good way to remember the pronunciation is to remember that one might say "c'est bon!" if a performance is found to have élan!
And limpid ... I wasn't totally, completely wrong there, though I'd say I was a good 90% wrong. And I think the clarity and gracefulness I imagined can certainly be included in an observation of Ax's limpid style.
I had the good fortune to see Emmanuel Ax perform at the Brevard Music Center last summer. Now that was a performance with both limpid playing and a great deal of élan. I believe that the conductor, David Effron, must have had a plate of creamy, custardy élan before the concert.* He certainly hadn't had any limpid Weight Watcher's cheesecake.** Because that concert was dee-lish.
*It's a joke. I'm using the word incorrectly as a joke.
**See above. It's a joke.