In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts hosted a Listening Party with Emanuel Ax. In conversation with Library Artistic Producer Evan Leslie, Mr. Ax discussed his life and career and shared recordings that have inspired and influenced him, which can all be found in the collections of The New York Public Library.


Listen to the full playlist on Spotify.


MOST INFLUENTIAL MOZART RECORDINGS

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto No. 3 in G major for violin and orchestra, K.216; Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major for violin, viola, and orchestra, K.364
Isaac Stern, violin; Walter Trampler, viola; Cleveland Orchestra: George Szell, conductor (in K.216); London Symphony Orchestra: Isaac Stern, conductor (in K.364)

 

Isaac Stern had two qualities that were especially wonderful. One was that he understood, somewhere inside, how things related. You could find any four bars in the performance and say, you know, I may like it this way better or that way better, but when you hear all of it, you feel that’s really the way it goes. He also has a kind of directness. He would play and you always got the message.

Find it at the library.

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
René Jacobs, Angelika Kirchschlager, Patrizia Ciofi, Véronique Gens, and Concerto Köln

Harmonia Mundi 2013

Opera is the music that my wife and I like the most. If we had a choice of what to do on an evening, we’d always choose opera, especially Italian operas, and that includes Mozart. Whenever you play a Mozart piano concerto, you’re really thinking in terms of opera, because the piano is very much an actor. Whenever the piano enters in a Mozart piano concerto it’s always something different. Sometimes the piano sneaks in, like an assassin. Sometimes the piano bursts in like Tamino in The Magic Flute. The relationship between piano and orchestra is always all about drama. I think Mozart was definitely a man of the theater.


MONUMENTAL PERFORMANCES FROM MY FORMATIVE YEARS

Frédéric Chopin: Barcarolle in F-sharp major, Op. 60
Arthur Rubinstein, piano

Recorded in Small Queen's Hall, Studio C, London, March 9, 1928

Rubinstein was the pianist that I heard earliest and most often. He played so many concerts in New York. He was so overwhelming in every way. Not only was he an incredible pianist, but he was a personality absolutely larger than life. He was somebody that when he walked out onstage, before he even played a note, you knew it was going to be a great evening. As for his performance of the F-sharp major Barcarolle, if that doesn’t want to make you go to Venice, nothing will.

Find it at the library.

 

Frédéric Chopin: Polonaise in F-sharp minor, Op. 44
Vladimir Horowitz, piano

The legendary 1968 television concert 
Recorded live at Carnegie Hall, NYC, January 2–3 and February 1, 1968
Sony Classical

I was in the hall for that concert, in the balcony of Carnegie Hall, listening to him live. I was eighteen and I was completely, completely, over the moon. And the wonderful thing is that when I hear it now, it’s just as great. I’m just as bowled over as I was then. If you characterize his playing, it sounds like three different people. With the piano, you put the finger down and the note just plays. His magic is in understanding how the next note relates, how much pedal to use where, and how to balance everything. It’s astounding. He sounded like an orchestra. He was a miraculous pianist.  

Find it at the library.


THE MOST FUN MUSIC TO PLAY

Gabriel Fauré: Quartet for piano, violin, viola, and cello No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15; Quartet for piano, violin, viola, and cello No. 2 in G minor, Op. 45
Emanuel Ax, piano; Isaac Stern, violin; Jaime Laredo, viola; Yo-Yo Ma, cello

Recorded at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, NY, December 10–13, 1990
Sony Classical

Fauré piano quartets are just incredibly beautiful music. After you’ve practiced them for a really long time they kind of feel…good! They’re still hard, but they feel better than a Brahms quartet, which you can practice for ever and ever and still mess up very easily in the concert. I think you have less chance of messing up the Fauré. 

Find it at the library.


BEST RECORDINGS FOR ARMCHAIR CONDUCTING

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky: Symphonie No. 6 h-moll, Op. 74, "Pathétique"
Berliner Philharmoniker: Wilhelm Furtwängler, conductor

Recorded live for Radio Kairo, April 1951, Cairo, Egypt
Deutsche Grammophon

Find it at the library.

 

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Leontyne Price, Rita Gorr, Jon Vickers, Giorgio Tozzi, Robert Merrill, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro dell'Opera di Roma: Sir Georg Solti, conductor

Recorded 1962, Rome Opera House
London

Find it at the library.


MOST ROMANTIC RECORDING FOR A DINNER DATE

Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé, Pavane pour une infante défunte, La Valse
Choeur de l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Orchestre symphonique de Montréal: Charles Dutoit, conductor

Recorded at St. Eustache, Montréal, August 1980 (Daphnis et Chloé), July 1981 (La Valse), May 1983 (Pavane)
Decca

Find it at the library.


BEST RECORDINGS FOR A SUMMER ROAD TRIP

Bill Charlap Live at the Village Vanguard
Bill Charlap Trio

New York: Blue Note Records

Find it at the library.

 

Ella Fitzgerald, Live at Mister Kelly's
Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; Lou Levy, piano; Max Bennett, bass; Gus Johnson, drums

Recorded live August 10, 1968, at Mister Kelly's, Chicago, IL, in two performances
Verve

Find it at the library.

 

Oscar Peterson: Night Train 
Oscar Peterson, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums
 
Recorded December 16, 1962, Radio Recorders, Hollywood
Verve

Find it at the library.

 

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca 
Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro alla Scala, Milan: Victor De Sabata, conductor

Recorded August 10–21, 1953, at La Scala, Milan, Italy
EMI Classics

Find it at the library.

 

Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème
Mirella Freni, Elizabeth Harwood, Luciano Pavarotti, Roland Panerai, Gianni Maffeo, Berliner Philharmoniker: Herbert von Karajan, conductor

Recorded October 1972, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
London

Find it at the library.