Boston Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas at Tanglewood – Mahler 5 – Emanuel Ax plays Mozart K449

Piano Concerto No.14 in E flat, K449
Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor

Emanuel Ax (piano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 25 July, 2015
Venue: Tanglewood Music Festival, Koussevitzky Shed, Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts

Michael Tilson Thomas led the BSO in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 14 with soloist Emanuel AxPhotograph: Hilary ScottThis Boston Symphony Orchestra concert at Tanglewood, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, began with Mozart played by Emanuel Ax. In the triple-meter opening Allegro vivace, he and the strings engaged in a delightfully tuneful dialogue, and those BSO instruments were richly sonorous in the gorgeous melody of the Andantino, which Ax took up with unfailing elegance. In the contrapuntal and elaborate finale, Ax marvelously traversed its many twists and turns.

After intermission, MTT led a powerful performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony that clearly delineated the tripartite structure of this five-movement work. Thomas Rolfs’s brilliant trumpet solo initiated the funereal opening, the full orchestra soon resonating mightily through the Koussevitzky Shed. The strings were outstanding in conveying the solemn mood, the rest of the BSO also prominent in passages that reveal a very different aspect of grief and despair. MTT plunged directly into the ‘stormy’ second movement, in which the lamenting cellos and the resplendent brass chorale were impressive.

The central section of the Symphony, an extended Scherzo that MTT allowed to grow in intensity, was marked by James Sommerville’s superb horn solos and clarinet riffs by William R. Hudgins. It was the highlight of the performance. The Adagietto initiates the final third of the Symphony, scored for strings and harp (Allegra Lilly), for what is the composer’s love-letter to his wife, Alma. MTT set a rather slow pace, but did not let the music drag unduly. The Finale was rife with wit and humor, jocularity persisting right through to the triumphant return of the chorale.

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