The Sea Hawk Suite [arr. Patrick Russ]
Concerto for piano (left-hand) and orchestra
Tango Song and Dance
Four Last Songs
Daphnis et Chloé Suite No.2
Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Renée Fleming (soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra
André Previn (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 9 June, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
To help celebrate André Previn’s 75th-birthday (on 6 April) this Gala Concert gathered music closely associated with this fine musician. His forty-year-plus relationship with the LSO, including a decade as Principal Conductor (he is now Conductor Laureate) and a mass of recordings, has been a memorable period. If time has not been too kind to Previn – he now needs a bit of help to negotiate the stairs to and from the platform and conducted all bar the Korngold from a seated position – he remains a lucid conductor and a selfless musician.
That said, the opening credits to “The Sea Hawk” were a bit sluggish although the strings’ luxuriance was more like the real thing, and the intimate moments were discharged with warmth and subtlety. In Ravel’s Concerto, Jean-Yves Thibaudet made all the right moves in his dry, sometimes over-pedalled account, but rarely if ever got under the music’s skin. If the orchestral writing was securely dispatched, the soul of the music was missing in this one-dimensional, rather brusque account that lacked subterranean menace and any sense of circumstance.
To complete the first half, Previn was heard as composer and pianist, the orchestra taking an early interval leaving Anne-Sophie Mutter and Previn rather prissily spot-lit (so too the bouquets hanging from either side of the auditorium) in music that is titularly unpunctuated but in three distinct movements. Previn’s invention is as engaging as it is inventive, although only the central Song, simple and touching, lingers in the mind. Tailor-made for Mutter, her personal style still managed to distract from the music at times; quite a contrast with Previn’s inimitable playing that remains deft and sparkling.
With Renée Fleming there is the feeling that there is little room for spontaneity in her singing and was, here, a little screechy in the highest registers. Yet she made something of each song and her word-pointing, although sometimes disruptive, was always interesting; some less than seamless phrasing may or may not have been intentional. Orchestrally, there was much to beguile, Previn clarifying detail and producing a soft yet meaningful exposé of Strauss’s minute calculations; excellent solos from David Pyatt (horn) and Gordan Nikolitch (violin).
The closing music of Ravel’s Daphnis was for the most part ideally realised in terms of sound and expression, Previn letting the music flow but with many observations; he really made something of the trumpets’ ‘kiss’ (when Daphnis and Chloé are reconciled) just before the full light of day and Gareth Davies’s flute solo was exemplary. Come the orgiastic close, Previn’s moderate tempo was musically beneficial if more Tea Dance than Bacchanal, and a few bars seemed uncertain, but there was a good blaze at the end. Had the option for a vocalising chorus been taken up, this would have been the icing on the cake. But there was not a real cake – this was a no-frills gala: no speeches except some written tributes in the programme from, among others, Ashkenazy, Dutilleux, Masur, Oscar Peterson and Oliver Knussen. The standing ovation and the applause from the LSO left in no doubt the affection that André Previn is held in, his own modesty and wit in evidence at this concert, which was a nice occasion.
- Concert broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 13 June at 7.30