Tanglewood 75 - From the Audio Archives: Day 24


Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat, K.271
Koussevitzky Music Shed, August 25, 1996

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink, conductor
Emanuel Ax, piano

Release: 07/13/2012  



Background on the Music

Tanglewood 75 Archival Program CoverMozart composed this concerto in Salzburg in January, 1777, the month in which he turned 21. It is sometime known as the "Jeunehomme'' concerto not because Mozart was still a young man but because of the young woman he composed it for, Mlle. Jeunehomme, about whom nothing else is known. She must have been a captivating musical personality however; this was one of the rare concertos Mozart did not compose for himself to play - although of course he did play it, and thought well enough of it to keep performing it for a number of years.

It is in the conventional three movements - fast, slow, fast - but little about it is conventional. The piano enters for the first time after a brief orchestral fanfare, not waiting for an orchestral exposition; the piano also immediately changes the mood. The slow movement is profoundly beautiful, tragic; the structure is that of a recitative and aria in an opera. The finale is a romp, but it is interrupted by something quite unexpected, a wistful minuet that touches on a deeper emotion before it vanishes with the return of the racing rondo theme.

Pianist Emanuel Ax has appeared in nearly every Tanglewood season since his debut in 1978. With the Boston Symphony in Symphony Hall, at Tanglewood, and on tour, he has played concertos by Mozart (seven of them), all five Beethoven concertos, Chopin, Liszt (both concertos), Brahms (both concertos), and Shostakovich as well as other works for piano and orchestra by Mozart, Franck, Richard Strauss, and Bright Sheng. This particular Mozart concerto he has played with the orchestra on five occasions. He has also participated in numerous performances of chamber music, often with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and coached Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center. He loves the area and the atmosphere so much that he owns a home in the Berkshires, and often attends concerts in which he is not performing.

He is not a point-making pianist, but always plays in an entirely musical way, with impeccable technique and a luscious quality of tone. His performance of this concerto is generous, alert, and lively and, when the music asks for poignancy, he delivers it.

The Boston Symphony does not have a specialized reputation as a Mozart orchestra, but when a great Mozart conductor is on the podium, it invariably rises to the occasion. Such conductors are not common, but Colin Davis, Kurt Masur, André Previn, James Levine, and Bernard Haitink have known what to do and how to do it. Haitink made his BSO debut in 1971 but he did not appear at Tanglewood until 1994, the summer before the orchestra named him principal guest conductor.  Mozart was on his very first program as a guest conductor, and his Mozart performances remain something to look forward to.

One interesting aspect of Haitink's career is that while his basic musical personality was established from the beginning, he has continued to develop, to explore different repertory, and return to older repertory with new insights. In 1971, Haitink had little hands-on experience with opera; by the time of this performance, he had acquired a significant operatic repertory and had conducted and recorded five of Mozart operas. And that experience is evident in the performance of this concerto which is full of character, emotion, and surprise.

Richard Dyer