CLASSICAL LSO Ravel Series Barbican Centre, London

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The Independent Culture
Andre Previn's mini-festival "Ravel through the looking-glass" opened at the Barbican on Sunday night with a warmly streamlined account of the felicitously scored Mother Goose ballet - not just the suite, but the whole work. It was rather like eavesdropping on a magic narrative shared between friends where a relatively small orchestra conjured an astonishing range of sounds and Previn was alert to every instrumental interchange. The performance seemed to gain in stature the deeper we ventured into the story, and Previn's elegant, loose-wristed gestures suggested a seasoned craftsman revisiting long-familiar contours. Nothing was over- stated, nothing pointed merely for effect and the Faure-like interlude that precedes "Little Ugly, Empress of the Pagodas" was especially beautiful. Best of all was the heart-stopping transition to "The Fairy Garden" - so much more moving when the solo violin leads us in (the suite dispenses with the episode) - and the tear-jerking crescendo that flowers towards the end of the work. Again, I was grateful that Previn allowed Ravel his say without any interventionist special-pleading from the rostrum.

Our eyes and throats cleared, we witnessed orchestral forces shift for Tzigane, that outrageous blend of camp and camp-fire. Here the violinist was the young Eunice Lee, pupil of Samuel Magad (leader of the Chicago Symphony), seasoned concert performer and Previn's chosen soloist for the world premiere of his own Violin Sonata. Any live performance of Tzigane invites an element of "hit or miss": there are countless tricks to conquer - harmonics, left-hand pizzicatos, crunchy chords and fiendishly demanding passages where the player's wrist stretches virtually to the bridge of the instrument.

Ms Lee's solo cadenza started well, with a confident attack, seductive portamentos and some extremely musical phrasing. But when the wrist-stretching started, her vibrato became nervously insistent and her manner understandably uncomfortable. Previn looked on, evidently concerned, although Lee was soon back on course for a properly frenetic finale.

The fireworks over, we finished as we started in the world of ballet and the best part of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe. Previn had opted for the two suites rather than the complete ballet because, as he had told me some months earlier, "we wanted to do all the other things as well" - although, to be fair to us in the audience, Sunday's rather short programme (it was all over by around 9.15pm) could easily have accommodated the full ballet's extra 20 minutes of music. Still, what we did have was superbly done, the First Suite's hugely sonorous "Danse guerriere" proving beyond doubt that Ravel's scoring needs to be heard live. And what a line-up of percussion - timps, bass drum, gong, cymbals and more, all going flat- out for the final charge. The Second Suite is, of course, far better known, with its sun-drenched dawn chorus, balmy "Pantomime" and wildly cantering "Danse generale". "Pure Hollywood!" said the chap sitting next to me, somewhat tongue-in-cheek - but I could see what he meant. Previn, as ever the consummate professional, gave us a powerful, big-screen Daphnis, gleaming, untroubled by mannerism and perfect food for the theatre of one's imagination. Next concert in the series: Thursday 7.30pm. Booking: 0171-638 8891

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