Mozart – Piano Concerto no.27 in B-flat major, KV 595Shostakovich – Symphony no.15 in A major, op.141
Emanuel Ax (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink (conductor)
No prizes for guessing which conductor I immediately associate with the LSO and Mozart. Sir Colin Davis’s shoes are impossible to fill in so many ways, but I was delighted, almost astonished, to hear the orchestra on as excellent Mozartian form as I can recall. Not, of course, that I doubt Bernard Haitink’s credentials in this repertoire, but even he would cede to Sir Colin in my affections in this case – or at least he would have done before this concert. The orchestra may have been small (ten first violins down to four double basses), but there was nothing underpowered about its performance. The opening of the first movement was crisp, with woodwind more prominent, even adamant, than one might have expected; clearly Haitink was determined that Mozart should not go excessively gentle into that good night. It might be exaggerated to consider his reading revisionist, for if it were, it was with the greatest subtlety, but it was in the best sense refreshing. Moreover, this movement was definitely heard as an Allegro. Mozartian perfection, then? Alas, not quite. This is the most unforgiving of all music; every slight imperfection tells and is magnified, and so it was with Emanuel Ax’s performance. There was much to admire. From the outset, his tone was clean, and his touch impressively variegated. Even early on, though, there was some puzzling, ungainly phrasing – repeated in the recapitulation, so it was no accident. During the development section, it was the orchestra that providing most of the energy, and also most of the sensuous pleasure, the woodwind, and particularly Emmanuel Laville’s oboe, simply ravishing. Returning, as it were, to the recapitulation, Ax badly smudged one run, but there was ample compensation to be had from the loving, yet never indulged second subject from the orchestra, somewhat blithely tossed away, alas, by the pianist. Mozart’s cadenza also had a degree of glibness to it, if only by comparison with what we heard from the LSO. I longed for a pianist such as Daniel Barenboim to probe beneath the surface – as, of course orchestra and conductor did throughout.