Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood – Andris Nelsons conducts Mahler 5 – Emanuel Ax plays Mozart K482

Piano Concerto No.22 in E-flat, K482
Symphony No.5 in C-sharp minor

Emanuel Ax (piano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 5 July, 2019
Venue: Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts

Emanuel Ax performs with Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andris NelsonsPhotograph: Hilary ScottThis was the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Opening Night at Tanglewood, its summer home in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. Andris Nelsons and Emanuel Ax collaborated on a delightful performance of K482. The BSO excelled during the introduction, and on arrival Ax’s touch was smooth and elegant, capping the first movement with a sparkling traversal of his own cadenza. The Andante was rendered with tenderness, whereas the Finale exuded high spirits, suggestive of a hunting party, with brilliant pianistic passagework interspersed with fine solos by the woodwind principals. The interpolated Minuet provided a charming contrast and Ax’s second cadenza whimsically anticipated Mozart’s playful ending.

After intermission, Nelsons led a Mahler Fifth that showcased the virtuosity of the BSO, not least trumpeter Thomas Rolfs whose playing was extraordinary. In the opening ‘Trauermarsch’ the strings conveyed the grief of a funeral cortège, all well-managed by Nelsons, whose baton stayed persistently on the beat. The wild segment that interrupts the slow march foreshadows the stormy second movement, but although the latter contains allusions to earlier thematic elements these did not come across as intricately intertwined, the standout being the brass chorale that shifts to the D-major that persists into the Scherzo, the Symphony’s second part. Here there were further interjections from Rolfs’s trumpet, terrific work by James Sommerville on horn, and fine contributions from percussion. The Symphony’s third part begins with the familiar Adagietto, which Mahler intended as a love-letter to wife Alma. Nelsons set a comfortable pace for this rapturous and delicate reading, in which Jessica Zhou’s harp sang out sweetly above the strings. The Finale was suitably cheerful and even comedic, as thematic elements return to culminate in the reprise of the chorale. However, despite the superb playing, overall this performance was episodic rather than integrated.

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