Classical review : LSO / ANDRE PREVIN Barbican Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
Hearing a star performer in the flesh after getting to know him or her on record can be severely disappointing. There is no chromium-plated perfection in the concert hall: acoustic balance, tonal control, musicality - the real thing can sound awfully hit-and-miss after the smoothly edited virtual reality of the compact disc.

But this time it was the other way round. When Edward Seckerson and I reviewed Cheryl Studer's recording of Strauss's Four Last Songs last year, we were both distinctly underwhelmed. But her concert performance with Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican on Sunday was another experience entirely. Technically it sounded more secure, and musically the insight was both deeper and more consistent.

There was still the odd, slightly tense moment, and not every one of Strauss's long, aspiring lines really soared, but it was moving, with some beautiful phrasing. Previn and the LSO deserve part of the credit - this was orchestral accompaniment of exceptional refinement and sensitivity. But the totality of the musical involvement was well-illustrated in that testing moment at the end of the second song, "September", where Hugh Seenan's gentle horn phrases seemed to grow from Studer's final words. It was the kind of rapport one would normally expect only in chamber music or a first-rate Lieder recital.

No one, surely, would claim that Strauss's musical travelogue An Alpine Symphony matches the emotional depth or compositional subtlety of the Four Last Songs. But it can easily be underrated. It contains some of the most breathtaking orchestral effects in any 20th-century score. You can try to be objective, analytical, and yet the sound of the bass brass looming quietly through the shimmering haze of the strings simply is what Strauss says it is - night falling on an awe-inspiring mountain.

Previn and the LSO's performance was pretty awe-inspiring too. Previn's technical command has never been in doubt, but recently his music making seems to have ripened. This Alpine Symphony was more than just a collection of vivid musical scenes, it was a journey. And any doubts about how the Barbican's notorious acoustic might cope with it were quickly put to rest.

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