Mutter, Harrell & Previn – LPO/Masur – 31 January

Beethoven
Symphony No.1 in C, Op.21
Concerto for piano, violin and cello in C, Op.56
Shostakovich
Symphony No.1 in F minor, Op.10

Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)

Lynn Harrell (cello)

André Previn (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Kurt Masur


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 31 January, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

When Heifetz, Piatigorsky and Rubinstein played together they were dubbed the “million dollar trio”, an epithet that led wags to ask if this was their worth or their fee! Such thoughts were engendered at this concert, the evening’s ’piano trio’ had raised top-price stalls tickets by 30% – from £35 to £50. This was no charitable appearance. Such things don’t directly concern a reviewer though, a gratis ticket preserving objectivity, and the hall was packed, a long queue for returns in place a couple of hours before the concert started … the price of fame!

Yet, the long applause and rather-forced cheers that greeted the Triple Concerto were probably as much to do with the (horrible word, now) ’celebrity’ aspect of this performance as much as the actual music-making, which was fine. Kurt Masur produced a no-nonsense, up-tempo orchestral backdrop that could have been a little more present at times yet which unearthed some curlicues not often heard. André Previn, playing with all the nonchalance of someone practising scales before breakfast was, providing you didn’t make the mistake of listening with your eyes, as stylish and natural as expected, the odd turn not always perfectly managed though (surprisingly). But he was too reticent, which made the piano’s contribution, here on a soft-toned Bösendorfer, seem even less important than usual. (The original soloists of Beethoven’s likeable if second-rate work were of mixed ability, Beethoven tailor-making the parts accordingly.)

Violin and cello dominated, then. Lynn Harrell was especially fine: poised, rich-toned and very expressive. Anne-Sophie Mutter was pleasingly restrained, her trademark visceral bowing and overstatement traded for unforced, mellifluous phrasing and threaded fantasy. Welcome!

The symphonies will stay in the memory bank longer – especially the quite superb Beethoven, which enjoyed a level of preparation that can still surprise in London. This is a lifetime’s music for Masur, yet nothing was taken for granted. His vital presence ensured a fleet, keen and exhilarating rendition that recreated the music afresh, the LPO’s alertness to every dynamic and accent something to behold in its corporate and individual response. All repeats were observed.

The other ’first symphony’ was almost as good. Shostakovich One is another Masur favourite; this performance was the latest of several in London (with the LPO, LSO and Israel Phil). Although Masur reveals all the precociousness of the young Shostakovich’s invention, dispensed here with virtuosity and admirable solo work, there was a lack of Shostakovich’s sardonic edge and impudence; Masur drills well the rhythms and the concerto-for-orchestra scoring but seems not to peer into Shostakovich’s inner world, those phantasms that would emerge, stripped naked, in the Fifteenth Symphony. Yet the slow movement’s presage of Shostakovich’s brooding canon was vibrantly mapped out and Simon Carrington’s timpani intervention in the finale stopped us dead – implacable and ominous. From here to the defiant end, Masur signalled the ’no way out’ maxim that was to be Shostakovich’s plight for the next 50 years.

Aren’t audiences funny? This one permeated Beethoven’s symphony with unguarded coughs, then sat still in awe of the trio of soloists. For the Shostakovich, recorded for the LPO’s archive, an announcement was made regarding coughs and the like. Of course there’s always the person who doesn’t appreciate such requests include them – but what a shame that quiet listening isn’t second nature.

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