Previn conducts the LSO – 3 February

Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op. 70

Kyung-Wha Chung (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 3 February, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

No criticism intended, but Previn/LSO concerts these days have the feel of old time reunions. A conductor secure in his chosen repertoire, making music for an audience which rests content in music-making both conscientious and appealing.

The programme tonight was vintage Previn, opening with his recent concerto for orchestra, Diversions. Scored for a slightly enlarged classical orchestra with subtly unobtrusive percussion, the work abounds in allusions to composers Previn has long conducted with authority: Prokofiev – the harmonic spicing of the ’Prologue’ Shostakovich – the unobtrusive ground bass of the ’Passacaglia’ Copland – the open-textured scherzando writing of the ’Fast’ third movement; and Britten – the pulsating string line of the ’Slowly’ finale, over which section leaders share an increasingly animated dialogue before a subdued close. Derivative, yes, but assembled and orchestrated with a mastery that puts most American composers of the younger generation to shame. Twenty-five minutes of attractive and pleasurable listening.

Kyung-Wha Chung and Previn have a working relationship going right back to her debut release in 1970. That LP featured what is still one of the most lucidly realised accounts of the Sibelius concerto, making Chung’s lapses here in intonation and phrasing – the first movement cadenza and second half of the finale were prone to mishaps – all the more surprising. Yet the vibrancy and insight of the performance were never in doubt – above all in the slow movement, whose simple but powerful arch form was conveyed with spine-tingling immediacy. Previn secured an expert but rather impersonal response from the LSO, suggesting that this partnership no longer strikes the sparks it once did. Good to hear them ’together again’ even so.

It is difficult to weigh up the relative strengths and failings of Previn’s Dvorák Seven, one way of saying that there was few of either! Momentum was kept on an easy rein in the opening ’Allegro maestoso’, which emerged as ominous rather than dramatic. The ’Poco Adagio’ was unaffected in its lyrical intensity, but those tonal and dynamic contrasts really need to hit home more. Similarly, the scherzo was rumbustious rather than incisive, though the wind and brass playing in the trio was a joy. The finale worked up some steam in a finely judged accumulation of energy before the classical catharsis of the coda. A rounded and satisfying interpretation, but uneventful compared with Sir Colin Davis’s idiosyncratic but highly-charged reading here last spring.

There’s no doubting the rapport Previn still enjoys with the LSO, however, or the affection of the response at the close. Oslo commitments notwithstanding, Previn will doubtless find time for further such reunions in the coming years.

  • Andre Previn has recorded Diversions with the VPO – DG 471 028-2 – (click here) to read David Wordsworth’s review.

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