Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood – Andris Nelsons conducts Joan Tower & Dvořák’s New World Symphony – Anne-Sophie Mutter plays André Previn’s Violin Concerto

Joan Tower
Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No.1
André Previn
Violin Concerto ‘Anne-Sophie’
Symphony No.9 in E-minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 6 July, 2019
Venue: Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter with the BSO and Music Director Andris Nelsons performing Andre Previn's Violin ConcertoPhotograph: Hilary ScottThis Boston Symphony at Tanglewood concert began with the first of Joan Tower’s six (so far) Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman. Inspired by Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Tower’s 1986 response uses the same instrumentation of brass and percussion and begins with a similar bass-drum-and-gong gesture followed by a convoluted version of Copland’s trumpet tune. The two works further diverge from that point, Tower’s marked by more-pungent harmonies and odder rhythms.

This concert was planned to mark the ninetieth-birthday of André Previn, but he passed away in February (announced by the LSO). Anne-Sophie Mutter gave an impassioned reading of the forty-minute Violin Concerto Previn wrote for her in 2001 (a BSO commission and DG recording). Mutter’s heartfelt playing and beautiful tone took full advantage of lyrical passages, and she met with aplomb the many technical challenges, these two achievements coinciding in the contemplative cadenza that begins the central movement of three. The concluding (if too long) one – Andante (“from a train in Germany”), referring to the rail journey on which Previn was inspired to write the work – is a series of variations based on a children’s song that he and Mutter knew, including (here) a fine clarinet contribution by William Hudgins, a lovely duet between Mutter and cellist Blaise Déjardin, and a bouncy rhythm initiated by snare drum and taken up by the soloist. The ultimate fadeout comes with a long harmonic on the violin’s uppermost register and which generated a respectful silence. As an encore Mutter played the sweet middle section of Previn’s Tango Song and Dance (1997, for violin and piano) in his orchestration.

Following intermission Nelsons led a superb account of Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony. After a suspenseful Adagio introduction the Allegro molto roared along until the second subject, on oboe and flute, set a more sinuous atmosphere, a function they performed again in the Largo, in which gorgeous English horn solos by Robert Sheena were the highlight. The Scherzo rollicked, to which the waltzing Trio provided a welcome contrast, and the Finale showed off the BSO’s terrific brass section as well as Dvořák’s brilliance at combining thematic elements from earlier – a performance marked by high-volume playing, Nelsons keeping good balance while tweaking and bending melodic lines to advantage.

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