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Seen and Heard Prom Review
Previn, Prokofiev; Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Highlights of André Previn’s first two seasons as Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic have included tours of Spain and Germany and a European tour of the Previn Violin Concerto with his wife, Anne-Sophie Mutter. Prom appearances have been noticeably lacking. He opened this one with an atmospheric reading of Debussy’s evocative Prélude à L'après-midi d'un faune. He had his finger on the pulse of the music producing throbbing rhythms and perfumed sounds of sensuous beauty, with seductive woodwind solos and shimmering strings. Here every member of the orchestra shone through radiantly: a totally sensuous experience.
Andre Previn wrote his Violin Concerto ‘Anne Sophie’ in 2001 on a commission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra and dedicated it to the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, in the months leading up to their marriage.
This over long work recalled other violin concerti namely Korngold’s, Bartok’s Second, Prokofiev’s Second, as well as the Walton Concerto, and seemed to be a patchwork quilt of influences. But where was Previn’s own voice here? Throughout there seemed nothing really distinctive or individual about the score where one could automatically state: "this score is clearly written by André Previn." While the orchestration was largely bland and staid, the writing for solo violin was far more imaginative and this concerto is essentially a vehicle to show off Mutter’s dazzling technique and range.
The orchestral writing in the first movement tended towards the conservative, lacking any sense of invention: a lyrical opening progressed to suave lushness interjected by quasi-jazz inflections from the brass. The music of the second movement is arguably the most successful, even if it was reminiscent in parts of Bartok’s spooky Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste and, in Previn's own words, it is: "more barren and acidulous" than the outer movements.
The finale subtitled ‘From a train in Germany’ is an autobiographical reference to a journey he took in 1997 evoking memories of his childhood years spent there. Yet this nostalgic journey down memory lane did not seem to inspire imaginative sounds from the orchestra but provided yet was another chance for Mutter to show off her brilliant technique. This movement is a set of variations on "Wenn ich ein Voeglin waer" ("If I were a bird and had two wings, I'd fly to you"). Yet the music flapped in many directions and flew in none, and after forty minutes of much a do about nothing I felt conned and perplexed. However, this well crafted work would serve well as a teaching exercise for violin students. Anne-Sophie Mutter clearly relishes the work and gave her all – literally a labour of love. However, this love was leaden and laboured, unlike Alban Berg's emotionally charged and deeply moving Violin Concerto (1935)’To the Memory of an Angel’ written out of love upon the premature death of Alma Mahler's daughter Manon Gropius.
Previn rightly deserves his international reputation as a superlative interpreter of Russian music (his performances of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony are legendary). His reading of Prokofiev’sSymphony No. 5 in B flat major had a fresh directness to it.
The somewhat dry sound of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra actually suited this score very well, producing an analytical and transparent sound where every detail of the orchestra came through with maximum clarity, even in the climaxes. Previn’s tempi were brisk and taut in all four movements, treating them as an integrated flowing whole. This work can often sound flashy and sensational, but under Previn’s tasteful restraint the music never sounded bombastic. The well judged climaxes in the first and third movements had intensity without drowning in decibels and this was repeated in the closing of the work, where every detail of the orchestra could be heard. This was a first rate performance played by a first rate orchestra, where conductor and orchestra were in total sympathy and rapport.
It is a pity that Paul Kletzki’s Philharmonia Orchestra account has not been reissued on Testament yet, but it is also expected that BBC Legends may be issuing Celibidache’s powerful and poetic 1979 LSO Royal Festival Hall performance soon.
André Previn: Violin Concerto, Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin); Boston Symphony Orchestra; André Previn: Leonard Bernstein : Serenade for Violin and Orchestra London Symphony Orchestra; André Previn: Deutsche Grammophon: DG CD: 000131302
Sergei Prokofiev: 5th Symphony in B flat major; Love for Three Oranges Suite; Scythian Suite; Antal Dorati, Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra: Mercury Living Presence: Philips CD: 432 753-2