LSO 11th June – Previn Violin Concerto

Violin Concerto [European première]
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 11 June, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Anyone regretting the loss of Korngold’s Violin Concerto shouldn’t have felt hard done by – André Previn’s first movement is steeped in that work, even down to the use of vibraphone. Add a couple of spoonfuls of Barber to intensify the nostalgia, and some Bartókian spice in the quicker parts, for an open-ended slow-fast design – lush, late-Romantic expression to the fore. The positive conclusion seems out of place, a ’to nothing’ close more apt, and this is how the 40-minute concerto will eventually end. The final and longest movement, inscribed “from a train in Germany”, is a set of deftly imagined variations on a German children’s song, which despite Previn’s typically impeccable craftsmanship loses steam. Following some inventive quick-changes – Berg and Malcolm Arnold allusions, a bit waltzy, a bit schmaltzy – as a traditional ending looms, Previn cuts away to a long, lyrical and heartfelt coda before the fade away.

The middle movement is also lengthy – of Shostakovichian loneliness, with abrupt outbursts, and a contrasting Prokofiev-like scherzo. Previn’s concerto lacks the concision, atmosphere and sheer inventiveness of his recent Diversions – first impressions suggest it is too long, too diverse and too sectional. For all Mutter’s technical ability, a soloist more naturally attuned to Previn’s brand of sweet remembrance might add another dimension – Gil Shaham comes to mind. Despite the collective expertise, not least some excellent work from LSO principals in a concerto not entirely focussed on the violin, it is not always apparent what this work’s long view is (if there is one). Its strongest point perhaps is that it chronicles those things important to Previn at a time when his memories and associations have particular poignancy for him.

The Rachmaninov was finely done, what passes today as broad and clear-cut for this music, yet recordings by, say, Sokoloff, Golovanov and Wallenstein document a freer, more volatile approach possessing something more intrinsic to this composer. Founded on deep and lustrous string sound, Previn conducted an unindulgent and flowing reading, impressively contoured and contrasted, the first and slow movements coming off best, the other two hanging fire a tad. Always rational and well balanced, save some rather strident trumpets and trombones, Previn’s reading has changed little since he helped rehabilitate the complete score thirty years ago – it remains lucid, structure-conscious and eminently musical.

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