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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Previn at 75 (II): André Previn, Richard Strauss: Tim Hugh (cello); London Symphony Orchestra; André Previn (piano/conductor), Barbican Centre, 18 June, 2005 (AR)


The second ‘Previn at 75’ concert opened with the composer’s compelling Sonata for Cello and Piano (1993) commissioned by Yo-Yo Ma and premiered on the 28th of March 1993 by Ma and the composer at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. In this performance Previn teamed up with the LSO’s principal cellist Tim Hugh to play this rather hybrid classical-jazz score. Here André Previn writes for the cello with great verve making it sound newly minted and multi vocal and Hugh’s vigour, virtuosity and imaginative artistry met with the composer’s complex musical demands.


The Vivace – Andante espressivo – Allegro had an eerie, ghostly and fragmented quality about it with Previn composing nervous gaps (silences) between agitated piano punctuations and brooding zigzagging cello interjections.  The Adagio was a serene and solemn affair with Hugh producing some quite extraordinarily stark sounds complementing Previn’s stark and static chords, creating a sense of severed space and alienation. In the Allegretto – Presto Previn and Hugh used abject and sullen sounds, weaving in and out and playing a childlike hide and seek.  Here the jazz element erupted in the form of rhythmically wild passages for pizzicato cello in close unison with the stabbing piano cords. The concluding Presto galloped ahead with frenzied attack only to be suddenly beheaded by the introduction of syncopated rhythms and a chordal full stop as if to say that all things have to come to an end. Hugh and Previn played with all the intimacy of a couple, becoming a single unity.


The concert concluded with a mesmerising and awe inspiring performance of Richard Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony) for orchestra, Op. 64 with the LSO showing themselves to be one of the greatest orchestras in the world.


Previn knows this underrated score inside out and conducted with minimal gestures (reminding one of he late Klemperer) and like him conjured up tremendous power and conducted with granite like control over colour, mood, metre and structure throughout.


Night opened with brooding murmurings from the pulsating double-basses and celli with Previn and players immediately setting the subterranean mood, rather akin to the throbbing opening of Wagner’s Das Rhinegold. The following Sunrise was an exhilarating experience with perfectly executed cymbal clashes and the golden sounds of the eight glowing horns: I cannot imagine the BPO or VPO horns playing with such control, colour and bravura.


The off stage brass band in The Ascent had great panache and clarity without sounding too close, brilliantly creating the sensation of a vast space between them and the players on stage. In At the waterfall and Apparition Previn enticed exotically evanescent textures and sparkling playing from percussion and woodwind, making the music dance with an ethereal lightness.


Like Sunrise, On the summit was an overwhelming, shattering experience, with the brass glowing wondrously and the full-bodied silky strings producing a lilting, sighing sound as if in ecstasy: I have never heard this passage performed with such passion and professionalism, only comparable to Karl Bohm’s sumptuously played Dresden Staatskapelle recording (Deutsche Grammophon: 47454). In stark contrast, A Thunderstorm had the appropriate terror and menace, but without becoming mere noise for noise’s sake as is often the case with lesser performers: here – even in the wildest passages – every scintilla of orchestral detail shone through. The wind machine can often sound rather kitsch and out of place but here it sounded truly musical and blended in well with the rest of the percussion section, whilst the spiky pizzicato strings perfectly imitated the raindrops. And so with Sunset and Night we returned full circle to where we began, back to the primordial murmurings of the beginning. Previn and the LSO deservedly got enthusiastic and lengthy applause and a standing ovation which seemed to take its toll on the frail conductor as he slowly walked back and forth, perhaps hoping – for once – that the applause would stop to save his legs!


This was truly great performance and it was a great pity that it was not recorded for ‘LSO Live’ – yet another missed opportunity by the orchestra’s own label.



Alex Russell


Further listening:

Richard Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony) for orchestra, Op. 64; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra,André Previn (conductor): Telarc  CD-80211.



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