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André Previn - A Celebration
full contents list at end of review
rec. 1975-2002
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8114 [6 CDs: 7:17:00]

Experience Classicsonline


With this nicely presented set DG celebrates André Previn's 80th birthday featuring him as conductor, composer and performer. The concentration is on the concert hall rather than any of the other worlds he has inhabited - no sign of his film music and no sign of his jazz escapades. We can leave Previn’s film scores for now but perhaps Chandos would add his name to their series - not least for his score for The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. No doubt Previn’s many jazz albums will also come together but in the meantime do not forget his 5 CD set Andre Previn - The Collection: Fascinatin’ Rhythm and a triple jazz album, all on Telarc who also carry quite a few Previn classical albums. 

We are told that the conductor selected his favourite recordings for this collection and we have every reason to applaud his good judgement. The booklet includes a typically self-effacing personal note from Previn as well as a personal assessment by Marc Mandel. We have to do without any profiles of the works in question and make do with a very thorough track-listing and all discographical details. There are no texts or translations for the sung works.

DG’s entry deftly complements the EMI Classics box which reflects Previn’s hectic years with the LSO in the 1970s. Previn’s skills are multifold but amongst them is his role as a superb communicator. His Andre Previn’s Music Night was a well-loved and popular fixture on BBCTV in the 1970s and caught the imagination of many viewers in much the same way that Evelyn Glennie’s TV series did in the late 1980s. His gift for British music is evident from his EMI and Telarc catalogues. RVW, Walton and Elgar were done in great style - rarely, if ever, anything more exotic: no Bax or Foulds. It’s a pity he never felt moved to conduct the Moeran Symphony or Bax Symphony 5 or 6.
 
Previn’s has had a migratory history when it comes to labels: RCA then EMI, a flutter with Decca then Telarc and then DG-Universal. These are from the most recent phase. The recordings in this DG box range in age from 1975 to 2007 though most are from the nineteen-nineties. All are in excellent sound. I am pleased to say that there’s a goodly contingent of Previn’s own compositions. These include the first release of the world-premiere live recording of Previn's double concerto for violin and contrabass featuring his fifth wife Anne-Sophie Mutter (they were divorced in 1999) and the young contrabass player, Roman Patkoló. Patkoló, like the greatly talented violinist Vilde Frang, was the recipient of a stipend from the Mutter Foundation in 1999. 

The Violin Concerto he wrote for and named after Mutter is present on CD 5. We also have three other Previn works complete and an extract from Previn’s opera A Streetcar Named Desire. His second stage work, a Houston Opera commission, is an adaptation of the film Brief Encounter. I do not know if this is in the pipeline but look out for a recording of that work.
 
After this experience one hopes for a complete Previn concert and theatre works collection some time soon. Interestingly there is no shortage of concertos from his pen but there’s no symphony? I also always half expected a saxophone concerto from Previn but nothing so far. 

CD 1
provides us with two key works from Ravel. L'enfant et les sortilèges deploys Elizabeth Futral who sings Laura Jesson in Previn’s second opera Brief Encounter premiered in Houston in May 2009 - she clearly made an impression. It is such an inventive score - a glossary of coups and effects but musical always musical. This is generously laid out in 25 tracks delivering a lovely finely pointilliste image - lush yet detailed, deeply satisfying - clear and startlingly immediate. While the singers’ are not native French speakers and their accents are in some cases just the wring side of convincing everyone enters into the spirit of things. There are intimations of what Weill would be doing in years to come - shades of Surabaya Johnny. I also noted the zephyr evocations and flutter-tongued flute in Adieu pastourelles. They are like the Atlantic breezes Louis Aubert’s Tombeau De Chateaubriand. The wild and roiling interweaving of the groaning trombones in tr. 15 is memorable amongst so much else. Sunset sea-surge of the finale is most beautifully done and its slow ascent through shimmering pastel lights 25. Ma mere l’oye is heard in the full ballet version and again in thoroughly gorgeous sound. In its pellucid glistening web of sound it is one of Ravel’s most sheerly beautiful scores. There are s many examples but choosing one at hazard: try tr. 31 4:38 and the beautiful lusciously-toned solo violin. Then there’s the irresistible lump-in-the-throat tolling apotheosis though I do feel that horns do not assert themselves strongly enough. Monteux - with whom Previn worked in Hancock, Maine alongside Lorin Maazel, Neville Marriner, Werner Torkanowsky and David Zinman - manages it better. There’s an identical Ravel CD from Rattle in the 1980s (EMI) and Maazel in 1961 (DG). 

CD 2 -
which is packed to the gunwhales - mixes Previn and Prokofiev. The Previn Double Concerto, in three movements and an interlude, is very romantic. It is redolent of the viola and violin partnership in the superb Arthur Benjamin Romantic Fantasy. His film music apprenticeship shows through in the work’s lushness and there are linkages with Rozsa (Sinfonia Concertante) and Korngold. The middle movement is harmonically subtle and for me evokes a slowly unfolding petal. There’s melancholia there among the roseate romance. The finale is playful à la streetcar in Barber's Knoxville but extended beyond the brief appearance in the Barber. Applause from this live recording of the premiere in April 2007 is left in. The Previn Piano Concerto tracks Poulenc in casual part-jazzy part-Waltonian first movement with some gloriously lush french horns. I always wanted Previn to do the Schuman Third Symphony and perhaps he did too given parts of this movement. It’s again very romantic, superbly rounded and wonderfully timed. The Andante and variations are more indulgent. Midnight thoughts and dawn revelations are suggested with great complexity of mood and even dissonance is embraced. I was impressed by the macabre col legno work at 8.00 and the Bernstein storm that follows. It’s all resolved into a softest of soft shimmers. In the finale the flit and flicker piano part reflects metropolitan brash Previn. It’s flashy stuff - a bit like the piano work Previn had to play when accompanying Vacchiano in Shostakovich 1. There’s a bit more display here than in the Double Concerto. The sign-off is a Waltonian conflagration with warbling and buzzing horns romp into that final affirmatively thundering thud.
 
Somewhat out on a limb in this box, the 1975 Decca inscription by Chung and Previn of Prokofiev’s First - and for me preferred - Violin Concerto is the only analogue recording present. You can hear the background ‘hush’. I am however delighted that it’s here. It still has so much to commend it. The recording was made in the late-lamented Kingsway Hall in October 1975. Chung’s slender and finely spun silver tone can be compared with a recent issue from EMI: Vilde Frang. Frang is however devastatingly well recorded - very natural but splendidly detailed - and she has, for me, a better sense of fairytale Grand Guignol.
 
CD 3: Previn initially recorded Shostakovich 8 during his 1970s hey-day as a young conductor. That 1973 EMI Classics recording remains stern competition for his older self in the 1990s. This version while toweringly recorded is without the bite of the earlier one. I know it’s a cliché but I sensed a more philosophical approach with the devastatingly imaginative blade and raw emotion he applied in the 1970s being less in evidence. This came home to me particularly in the first and last movements. The penultimate movement is however very satisfying with the suggestion of chaos just as strong. Indeed the Largo is very powerful. In a world of intégrales it is interesting that Previn has not gone for a complete Shostakovich cycle. This 8 is by no means negligible but for all its superb recording quality - listen to the imaginative stereo separation in the third movement - it lacks the acrid fumes and cordite he brought to his 1973 version.

CD 4: Previn and Korngold. Though we must never forget Gerhardt and Korngold Previn certainly seemed made for the Korngold renaissance. The Symphony is of epic proportions and substance. In the first movement the woodwind solos are full of character and the striving against adversity is patent. The glorious second movement - edgy zingy scherzo - does not lack for verve. It is much more than dapper. The woodwind yelps and expansive horn choir are tirelessly noble and tragic. At 6:03 a sort of affectionate weariness enters. In the third a grief-laden underlay is at last tellingly to the fore. This work even sounds good on modest equipment. Previn’s reading has more character than that of Welser-Möst now on an EMI twofer. It was made at All Hallows, Gospel Oak which on this showing is a prime audio venue as good as the Kingsway Hall of yore. Record producers with teams as good as DG’s should be beating a track there. 
 
Mutter and Previn take the Violin Concerto and lend it a trembling lump in the throat. Mutter’s tone is noble and upstanding and imparts an emotional nobility to the music. The romantic melos is superbly caught by the recording and the pizzicato in the finale has a sternum-shaking impact. This is closer to Heifetz but without his bullet-proof emotional carapace. She deploys a restrained vibrato which reminded me (3:10 - 3:53) of Stern in his classic Barber concerto recording. Mutter is more emotionally fearless but while this is wonderful I still favour the constraint of Anima Mathé on Dorian. The middle movement has a glistening Christmassy beauty that should bring a tear to the driest eye and the hardest heart. This is remarkable playing.
 
This recording of the Violin Concerto is from a live concert in 2006. It is hemmed about with exalted and robust competition. My favourites include the deliberately unglamorous 1994 version by Ulrike-Anima Mathé on Dorian DOR-90216 and, from much earlier, the equally understated Ulf Hoelscher. Worth hearing alongside Hoelscher (EMI Red Line) are Cuckson (Centaur), Schmid (Oehms), Ehnes (Onyx), Shaham (DG), Perlman (EMI Classics 5096762) and Mutter (DG). They’re all a freshening breeze and relief from Heifetz's relentless hegemony on BMG-RCA.
 
This disc represents another great and gratifying recording which has front to back depth and a splendidly wide soundstage. Do not forget Previn’s excellent Korngold film music collection taken down in Abbey Road in July 2001: DG 4713472.
 
CD 5: Previn’s Violin Concerto (Anne-Sophie) dates from 2001. if you have been captivated by the Korngold you will love this. Previn can yearn with the best and Mutter is more than equal to the technical and emotional challenge. It’s a pity they never recorded the Schoeck. The second movement is more acidic, umbrageous, fantastic and ambiguous. It communicates as a requiem or a journey through a threatening landscape with a dear friend. It ends with what sounds to me like a mediation between the Berg and the Korngold. The finale returns to fluttering Korngoldian romance. There’s a relished sunset with jazzy invigorating asides, a lament and a sense of cold entering the bones. There’s a Schmidt-like horn motif behind the violin during the last pages. No applause this time.
 
The Three Dickinson Songs feature the composer and Renee Fleming. Two slow songs frame a quick one. Fleming’s glorious operatic voice obscures the words as they sink into the luxury but her acting ability is wonderful. The second song is almost Sondheim and passes in a rippling rush. The last song majors on lassitude and lightly disillusioned lovely piano inflections and trills. It’s delightful. Programme assemblers should not forget these songs when building American recitals for Rorem, Barber and Bernstein. I can smell the sea airis a brief but magnificent aria from Previn’s 1998 opera A Streetcar Named Desire. Renee Fleming assumes a decadently blowsy accent as poor shallow Blanche. This is a lavish romantic statement in which Previn has invested in every note his experience of Rosenkavalier, of Puccini, of Korngold. It is just superbly done and completely voluptuous and full of detail - listen to the - streaming and then staccato harp at the climax. It’s something of a pity that words are not supplied.
 
The Diversions were written for the VPO and we hear them on this disc. The movements of this concerto for orchestra track through restless, troubled and parodistic Shostakovich and offer solo-spots for the principals of the orchestra. It ends in another of those well calculated breathing and shivering gleams.
 
CD 6: The last disc is all Richard Strauss: this time the Sinfonia Domestica and Rosenkavalier suite. This perfectly complements and extends Previn’s and the VPO’s overlooked Telarc Strauss odyssey. That legacy is reflected in a 4 CD boxed set: Telarc 80428 (CD 1: Don Juan [18:06]; Don Quixote [41:26]; CD 2: Also sprach Zarathustra [34:57]; Tod und Verklarung [26:41]; CD 3: Eine Alpensinfonie [48:19]; CD 4: Ein Heldenleben [46:14]; Four Last Songs (Arleen Auger, 1989): Frühling [3:34]; September [4:40] Beim Schlafengehen [5:31]; Im Abendrot [8:17]). Those recordings date from 1988-1991 just before his move to Universal.

In 1992 Previn and the VPO were in the Musikverein Grossersaal with the DG audio team for this five movement Rosenkavalier confection. It’s as opulent as you could hope or wish. The orchestral trumpets are captured with a wonderful fruity clarity as are the priapic and exuberantly whooping horns which blaze out in golden full-throated glory in the finale. There’s a sedate waltz for Ochs and dripping schlagobers in the Prelude to Act II. This is all about excess but such excess ... Sadly the suite is in one big 22 minute slab. As for Domestica, recorded three years later, Previn brings out its Mozartean gamin playfulness without scouting around the Korngold-style flourishes. It’s hardly the most compelling of Strauss’s works but its sollipsistic delights do have an appeal. Interesting to note how the exuberance of Strauss can be heard in Previn’s own I can smell the sea air from A Streetcar Named Desire.  

Rob Barnett 

Full Contents list
CD 1 [72:26]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 - 1937)
L'enfant et les sortilèges, opera-ballet in two parts (1920-1925) [45:12]
Ma mère l'oye - ballet (1911-1912) [27:30]
Anne-Marie Owens (mezzo); Mark Tucker (tenor); Rinat Shaham (soprano); Jacqueline Miura (voice); Mary Plazas (soprano); Robert Lloyd (bass); Juanita Lascarro (soprano); Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo); David Wilson Johnson (baritone); Elizabeth Futral (soprano); New London Children’s Choir/Ronald Corp; London Symphony Chorus/Stephen Westrop
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
rec. London Abbey Road, Studio 1, June 1997
CD 2 [81:15]
André PREVIN (b.1929)
Double Concerto for violin, contrabass and orchestra (2007) [27:35]
Roman Patkoló (double-bass); Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
Piano Concerto (1984) [31:26]
Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891 - 1953)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 (1916-17) [20:49]
Kyung-Wha Chung (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
rec. Boston, Symphony Hall, April 2007 (Double); Walthamstow Assembly Hall, June 1988 (Piano); London, Kingsway Hall, October 1975 (Prokofiev)
CD 3 [67:42]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65 Stalingrad (1943) [67:09]
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
rec. All Saints Church, London, October 1992
CD 4 [76:54]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897 - 1957)
Symphony in F sharp major, Op. 40 (1947-1952) [52:28]
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1945) [23:02]
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
All Hallows Gospel Oak, London, June 1996 (Sym); London Abbey Rd, Studio 1, October 2003 (Cto)
CD 5 [74:44]
André PREVIN (b.1929)
Violin Concerto (Anne-Sophie) (2001) [39:03]
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
Three Dickinson songs, for voice & piano (1999) [7:02]
André Previn (piano)
Diversions for orchestra (1999) [24:33]
Wolfgang Tombock (horn); Gotthard Eder (trumpet); Meinhart Niedermayr (flute); Martin Gabriel (oboe); Franz Bartolomey (cello); Peter Schmidl (clarinet); Günter Federsel (piccolo); Michael Werba (bassoon)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn
A Streetcar Named Desire, opera: I can smell the sea air (1998) [3:42]
Renée Fleming (soprano)
André Previn/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
rec. Boston, Symphony Hall, October 2002 (Violin); American Academy of Arts and Letters, NY (Songs; Diversions), May 2000; War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco (Sea Air), Sept 1998.
CD 6 [64:16]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)
Sinfonia Domestica for orchestra, Op. 53 (TrV 209) (1902-1903) [42:35]
Der Rosenkavalier suite, Op. 59 (1945) [21:38]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/André Previn
rec. Musikverein Grossersaal, Vienna, November 1995 (Sym); October 1992 (Rosenkavalier)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8114 [6 CDs: 7:17:00] 

 


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