Serenade in G, K525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik)
Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: 22 June, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
As he approaches his 80th-birthday (6 April next year), André Previn seems as busy as ever with a diary full of engagements with top orchestras, a continuing career as a chamber musician and a rash of new compositions, including his second opera, “Brief Encounter”, due in Houston next year. There‘s also a concerto for violin and viola, written for Anne-Sophie Mutter and Yuri Bashmet, and it’s more than likely that it was the attraction of the former Mrs Previn that sold out the Barbican Hall on this occasion. A popular programme was an added bonus.
The last thing that ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ needs is another routine performance, which is, unfortunately, what it got. At least we need wit and charm to remind our jaded senses of what a beautifully compact and exquisitely shaped piece Mozart left us. Previn adopted a steady tempo for the opening Allegro but the movement, as did the whole work, remained resolutely grounded with violins lacking lightness of touch and rhythmic delicacy. The ‘Romanze’ was quicker and more song-like, the Minuet rather heavy and leaden and the finale lacked brio.
Though the LSO was well balanced, the violins were not always together, which was also apparent in the symphony. Rarely have I heard the slow introduction as solemn and as foreboding as this, the heaviness of Previn’s approach making Mozart seem almost Beethovenian in weight and sonority. Even the Allegro did little to relieve the sense of gloom. If there is resignation and a sense of loss in the Andante then Previn’s take was positively grief-stricken if not a little tired sounding. There was some delicate wind-playing in the Minuet but the slightly sloppy entry by the violins into the less than exuberant finale summed up a performance which never really took flight.
Previn and the LSO seemed revitalised with the presence of Mutter. There was urgency to the opening Allegro non troppo, confirming suspicions that Previn is much more comfortable in this repertoire. There was urgency too from Mutter: her first entry had a sense of purpose and displaying her bravura gifts. This most technically difficult of violin concertos holds no fear for her: indeed her virtuosity in the first movement cadenza was as assured as you could possibly imagine. The middle movement brought a sympathetic oboe solo and showed Mutter at her most passionate with a yearning quality that never toppled into sentimentality. The finale brought some exuberant playing in the gypsy-flavoured main theme but also some slightly mannered phrasing; she was almost toying with the melody, the net effect was to interrupt the music’s flow and for Previn to emit a wry smile in the soloist’s direction.
This was not the most relaxed or lyrical of renditions, and certainly not an ‘autumnal’ one, but it was certainly compelling.