Serenade (after Platos Symposium)
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Dame Felicity Lott (soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn
Reviewed by: David Wordsworth
Reviewed: 6 June, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Conducting composers – Bernstein, Mahler and Previn – sadly none particularly well served on this occasion, one of the most lack-lustre, uninspiring LSO concerts I have ever heard.
Bernstein’s Serenade, inspired by Plato’s “Symposium” on the philosophy of love, is basically a violin concerto, the soloist accompanied by strings, harp and percussion. An elusive piece on many accounts, sometimes beautifully poised and touching (as in the fourth movement ’Adagio’); at other times, at leastfor this writer, rather crass and vulgar (the third movement ’Presto’) – but there again that is Bernstein and, having said all that, the Serenade remains one of his most successful concert works. I have to admit to not being at the head of the queue as far as Anne-Sophie Mutter is concerned – I find her playing uninvolved, cool, straight-laced, just remarkably forgettable. In this instance I cannot imagine a player or playing-style further away from the Bernstein’s work. The accompaniment was scrappy, poorly balanced (the percussion far too loud) and quite untypical of the LSO.
The Orchestra was clearly uninspired by its conductor – whom it has to be said looked as though the whole thing was just too much, the effort of lifting his arms high enough seemed a major effort; the Orchestra struggled. All in all, rather sad.
With the Mahler the LSO at least seemed to be on safer ground – so far as the notes were concerned. Childhood innocence didn’t come into it much! The symphony dragged, and was characterless and bland. The ’Scherzo’ was leaden and dreary – neither sinister, “the devil having the best tunes” (despite Leader Gordan Nikolitch doing his level best to liven things up and add a bit of danger), or rustic or anything else. What should be ashattering climax in the slow movement passed off almost without being noticed! Not even the wonderful Felicity Lott could save this from being a fairly dismal evening, her pointed and customarily accomplished delivery of “The Heavenly Life”, when surroundedby anything less then the halo of wonder and enchantment that should end the Symphony, fell flat. The rain outside woke me up!