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Previn at 75 (III): Korngold and Walton: Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), London Symphony Orchestra, André Previn (conductor), Barbican Centre, 22 June, 2005 (AR)



André Previn's final birthday concert began with an incandescent performance of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1945) brilliantly played by his wife, Anne Sophie-Mutter. This is unashamedly a romantic work and Mutter played it with great warmth and passion producing rich, lush, heart on sleeve sensuous sounds in the Moderato nobile. Here the LSO responded with exotic, voluptuous playing guided by the sparse baton and hand of Previn. In Romance (Andante) Mutter produced moody, melting and subdued subterranean sounds with her razor sharp playing producing shards of sweet and sour sensations; again the LSO and Previn matched her mood with a serene sensitivity and translucent textures. Mutter's muscular athleticism came to the fore in the Finale (Allegero assai vivace) playing with a breath taking wild frenzy and producing a wonderfully rugged and grainy tone: the orchestral accompaniment had elements of a Wild West Road Runner cartoon - jovial, camp-farce, over the top.


André Previn knows and conducts William Walton's First Symphony in B flat minor (1932-35) better than anyone else and his 75th birthday performance even out shown his renowned and youthful 1967 studio account.  This 'mature' reading was weighty, brooding, broadly measured and extraordinarily Brucknerian in the spacing of the gaps between brass interjections and silences - notably in the first and last movements.


From the opening timpani-roll and held notes on horns of the Allegro Previn set the metre of the movement: taut, rock steady yet broadly measured. Here Previn actually gave the music an eerie and threatening throbbing pulse (articulated by the weighty double-bass line in particular) making the music flow organically as if, after giving birth to itself, it grew into this swirling, shuddering, monstrous mass of snarling and sighing sounds.  The only 'human' voice in this movement is the oboe solo which has a sense of isolation and loneliness: the composer alienated by a lost love? (Walton had ended a turbulent love affair when writing this.) After this sad oboe solo the movement marches on as the monster like motifs spiral through the strings, woodwind, and brass ending in the original five note cello motif.


The colossal closing climax with nailing timpani and brass punctuations were overwhelming and exhilarating: with slightly slower tempi than usual Previn created a greater sense of tension, anticipation and drama. The closing bars were pure brute power having a shuddering after effect on the hypnotised audience. Scherzo: Presto, con malizia  - marked very fast, with malice - was just that with Previn enticing the brass and timpani to play with a manic and menacing intensity articulating angular cross-rhythms with savage sounds. The mood shifted to a tranquil soft haze with the overtly romantic Andante con malincolia with the woodwind playing like lonely lovers lost in the wilderness while the strings sighed and throbbed with a brooding sad serenity.


The concluding Maestoso - Brio ed ardentemente was taut and tough with Previn securing jagged and buoyant rhythms making the menacing music seemingly dance wildly to its death. Again, as akin to the closing of the first movement, Previn exercises a mesmerising effect by slightly broadening the gaps between the punctuating brass interjections creating a sense of anticipation and nervous tension as to when and if the music has ended. The broadly paced accompanying two timpanists played in unison with affirmation and it felt as if the work did not want to come to an end  - only to suddenly behead itself with a final thud sending a thunderbolt through the hall. 



Alex Russell



Further listening:



Korngold, Tchaikovsky: Violin Concertos, Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin), London Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, André Previn (conductor): Deutsche Grammophon: SACD : 474 874-2.


Walton: Symphony No. 1 in B flat minor, Vaughn Williams: The Wasps Overture; London Symphony Orchestra, André Previn  (conductor) 1967: RCA GD87830.


Walton: Symphony No. 1 in B flat minor, Crown Imperial,Orb and Sceptre; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, André Previn (conductor): 1985: Telarc CD-80125.




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)