Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Previn @ Barbican Hall, London

16 January 2011

Among Andr Previns finest recordings are a series of Strauss tone poems with the Vienna Philharmonic and a cycle of the Vaughan Williams symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra. Both composers were represented in this memorable concert with the LSO, the orchestra which Previn led as Principal Conductor from 1968 to 1979.

These days, the 80 year-old Previn looks somewhat fragile and needs to sit while conducting, but his interpretative skills remain undiminished. The opening work, Strausss Don Quixote, received a stimulating and vividly etched performance, the various episodes not just demonstrating orchestral virtuosity, but communicating emotional weight as well. The imaginary flight of Quixote in Variation 7 was delivered with an almost elemental power, while his return home in Variation 10, underpinned by funereal timpani strokes, evoked Strausss great contemporary, Mahler. Best of all was the performance of the glorious orchestral interlude in Variation 3, the Previn drawing ecstatic playing from the orchestra.

As Strauss intended, the cello and viola solos representing Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were played by the relevant orchestral principals, in this case Tim Hugh and Edward Vanderspar. Hughs playing was alive to the fantasy of Strausss writing, if not always totally inside it, while Vanderspars portrayal was warm and humorous.

Previns interpretation of Vaughan Williamss Fifth Symphony was of a kind that reflects a lifetimes experience and insight, faithful to the score yet with unsurpassed depth of feeling. Aided by luminous strings and evocative horn calls, Previn guided the opening movement from mysterious beginnings to an impassioned climax, following it with an account of the Scherzo which was incisive and demonic, reminiscent of Vaughan Williamss ballet Job. A sense of hushed awe pervaded the start of the Romanza, a movement in which time seemed to stand still, the eloquent account of the cor anglais solo by Christine Pendrill indicative of the quality of the playing throughout. The concluding Passacaglia was energetic and joyous, the divided strings at the conclusion both serene and immensely poignant.

Its often the case that conductors of Previns age and stature get standing ovations just for turning up, but on this occasion the standing ovation was fully justified by the quality of the music making.

Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk

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