LPO Beethoven Symphony Cycle – Part three

Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60
Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92

London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andre Previn

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 5 December, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Continuing the theme of repeats and orchestra-layout … Andre Previn prefers all the violins together, which negates the antiphonal exchanges at the end of Seventh. Previn’s violas sit outside-right; not sure about this – somewhere in the middle seems preferable for, well, middle-voice instruments. As for repeats, they were all in place in No.4. The Seventh was nearly complete in this respect – only one playing of the second half of the scherzo foreshortens the foreshortening that Beethoven himself does on the scherzo’s reprise; losing the first-time bars in the finale isn’t so crucial.

It wasn’t Kurt Masur’s plan to pair these symphonies; tonight should have been 6 and 7. They, 4 and 7, go well together though – both have imposing slow introductions and ABABA scherzos, and both are imbued with rhythm, including the slow movements – the Fourth’s heartbeats, No.7’s march.

Previn’s conducting had similar effects. The first two movements of both symphonies were superb. The slow introductions compelled attention – the emerging of light from the shadows in No.4 was wonderfully handled; No.7’s had a Klemperer-like imposition, rhythmic seeds sown from the off, the appearance of the exposition especially deft. Both symphonies enjoyed Previn’s immaculate phrasing and sense of line, and long-term accumulation. Perhaps there was too much decorum – not for this listener though; Previn’s Beethoven might be described as ’controlled virility’.

Both scherzos were articulate. The Fourth’s ’trio’ could have been given a little more time, even if this meant dispensing with ’classical propriety’ for once; conversely, that of the Seventh could have moved more, as Toscanini espoused, but Previn caught with wit this movement’s dichotomy of obsessive outer and hymnal inner sections.

Neither finale quite culminated the respective wholes. The Fourth’s was rather bland with not enough definition of inner parts; some points of emphasis seemed rather misplaced in this perpetually moving winged-messenger of a creation. The Seventh’s had an inner resolve but lacked abandon.

Both slow movements had motion without haste. That of No.7 was stoical, the fugato-middle finely shaded. The Fourth’s ’Adagio’ – Previn ideally spacious – balanced serenity and martial interruption, fragility and passion to a nicety – the highlight of the concert.

Previn’s undemonstrative music-making is always a pleasure. He secured expressive and unanimous playing; his balancing of string lines was acute, double basses particularly telling in both weight and point. The timpanist’s audible hand-stopping of notes again proved irksome – why not let the sound naturally decay? Overhang would be preferable to physical sound. Guttural-sounding horns were of Previn’s request; this section can though be a tad over-prominent and coarse-grained.

These minor blemishes aside, this was an evening of thoughtful and sensitive Beethoven interpretation.

Click on the links below to read reviews of the concerts in this series

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