As wide-ranging and as versatile as he is, Leonard Slatkin is not especially associated with the Symphonies of Anton Bruckner. Through recordings I have heard him in Number 2 (Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra) and Number 8 (St Louis). He has also conducted the Seventh and, now in Detroit, after a thirty-year gap Slatkin was returning to the ‘Romantic’. The 1878 score as edited by Leopold Nowak (there is also a publication by Robert Haas) supplemented by the 1880 finale is one latterly favoured by Bernard Haitink, and in London just recently by Robin Ticciati. This is not the most complicated Bruckner Symphony in terms of edition, but there are still a number of versions of it out there that need to be sifted through.
Supported by soft and shimmering strings, the Symphony opened with Karl Pituch’s serene horn solo (as if calling across valleys and over mountaintops). The first movement as a whole drew a fine balance between spaciousness and having a sure sense of direction while encompassing fully those moments of introspective reverie, the DSO principals so poetic, and the orchestra wonderfully resonant in fortissimos, also finding a light, shade and dynamic variance for a searching reading that remained symphonic.
Slatkin’s carefully considered but copious conception of this Symphony – matching Klemperer’s organic approach with Böhm’s generosity (both left us great recordings of the ‘Romantic’) – continued with the nocturnal tread of the Andante quasi allegretto, the conductor convincingly landing on the last two words of the marking, but there was no haste, and there was flexibility, the strings blossoming, not least the violas (led by Joanna Zakany); this movement can easily drag but Slatkin avoided that pitfall. The brass-led Scherzo, complementarily massive to the preceding movement’s dispatch, enjoyed ‘hunting’ cut and thrust, and agile detailing, and the Trio basked in a lovely languor.
As for the finale, which the composer, scholar and BBC producer Robert Simpson (1921-97) suggested should be played adagio (and which Celibidache did anyway – and amazingly) found Slatkin going the other way but not averse to applying the brakes and then accelerating, a mix of valour and sacred reflection, a picturesque if goal-bound forest journey gradually clearing to the colossal coda, here in wonderment at natural surrounds and then attaining a very high place indeed, sonorous brass and light-emitting violins in partnership – and the broadcast sound was some of the best yet from the Al Glancy Control Room. Following this singularly impressive ‘Romantic’, a simple request to Mr Slatkin: please consider my soft-spot Symphony 6.
The concert’s first half, following a stately and sprightly account of the Overture to The Magic Flute – a curtain-raiser warmly expressed and not rushed through (full of expression, the antithesis of ‘authentic’) but still requiring a nimble response – included the welcome appearance of a recent work by André Previn. His catalogue of compositions includes numerous Concertos – some for the ‘usual suspects’ of piano, violin and cello, and also for guitar and for harp, and even one for horn, trumpet and tuba; in addition there are a couple of Double Concertos, for violin and double bass, and for violin and viola. Now there is one for violin and cello (2014), first heard from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (one of the co-commissioners, including Detroit) just a few months ago with these soloists conducted by Louis Langrée.
Sunny and lyrical, and written with typical impeccable craftsmanship, Previn’s Double Concerto for Violin, Violoncello, and Orchestra (as the score’s title-page has it) is a three-movement, near-25-minute creation that makes for enjoyable but not passive listening. Previn introduces the cello first, like Brahms in his Double, then the violin – the two soloists duelling before the orchestra enters with playful quirkiness. The first movement is likeably skittish, the scoring (for full orchestra) economic and varied, always lucid; wit, a light touch, a hint of romance – and unpredictability – win the day: Audrey Hepburn and Jack Lemmon – now starring in celestial roles – came to mind a few times (but I have no wish to typecast Previn). The middle movement has its yearning aspects, very expressive and with a hint of Gershwin here and there, and the finale is light on its feet, breathes fresh air and suggests a civilised spring-day carnival.
There was some attractive playing from Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson, and Slatkin has the Previn style at his fingertips. This is a not a showpiece score but one that radiates a feel-good factor contrasted with something deeper, and this collegiate performance got it just right. Maybe there will soon be a Previn concerto for violin and violin.