Ax & Previn – LSO (8 June)

Symphony No.38 in D, K504 (Prague)
Tod und Verklärung, Op.24
Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15

Emanuel Ax (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
André Previn

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 8 June, 2003
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

A generous combination of works for the first of three LSO concerts with André Previn and Emanuel Ax. This particular Brahms D minor didn’t quite add up despite isolated splendours. The less than unanimous ’thunderbolt’ that begun the concerto was a presage for a loose-limbed account sustained by sheer musicianship. Brahms was 25 when he completed this titanic work – the opening orchestral exposition had a touch of middle-age spread. The LSO’s playing glowed at times and there was trenchancy elsewhere. The power surged rather than accumulated and this lack of an emotional through-line rather undid the heroic first movement. The introspection of the ’Adagio’ was a little lightweight if expressively sustained, while the Finale left no doubt as to Ax’s willingness to take risks. (This was a freer view of the music than Ax had given with the Philharmonia and Dohnányi back in February – a reflection of the conductors’ personalities and Ax’s ability to interact.) Propulsive and certain, if a little dicey, Ax took on the concerto and won – by a deciding vote! He plays Brahms’s B flat concerto this Thursday, the 12th.

The Mozart symphony was given a warm-toned, dynamic-conscious reading that was agreeably relaxed. Not much incident in the first movement, save Previn’s clarification of inner parts and his prominent balancing of woodwinds over strings when important motifs needed to be heard. The ’Andante’ was sublime – an unending melody movingly phrased and played. The half-speed Finale was fine if you’re not worried it’s marked ’Presto’ – that Previn teased out so much detail, articulation and bubbly good humour more than justified his decision. A delight!

Centrally placed was a magnificent version of Death and Transfiguration. It’s music that Previn’s always done well. 18 months or so ago he led a very fine LSO rendition of it. This one was even better – orchestra and conductor in complete accord as to how it should go. No wonder Previn applauded the LSO afterwards – from death throes to reminiscences to last breaths to final resting place, lucidity of texture and structure combined with an emotional ennobling of the music for something engrossing and memorable.

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