The concert launching Andre Previn's 75th birthday celebrations came lavishly gift-wrapped. With a nod to dim and distant days in Hollywood it began and ended on location. You could have put money on the London Symphony Orchestra's Conductor Laureate rounding things off with a spin around the ancient Greece of Ravel's imagination. The sumptuous Second Suite from Daphnis et Chloë is a perennial Previn party-piece and more or less played itself with Gareth Davies' limpid flute solos basking in the rosy afterglow of Ravel's impossibly beautiful dawn chorus.
It hardly seems possible that the charismatic long-haired trendy who steered London's oldest orchestra to the widest public in its history should now need assistance mounting the steps to the Barbican platform. But his physical frailty counts for nothing once he raises his hands for the downbeat. The "main title" credits for this gala event came courtesy of Erich Korngold in a blaze of seafaring fanfares heralding The Sea Hawk. The Hollywood Korngold has a lot more in common with Richard Strauss than some would care to admit.
But the outrageous cribs from Der Rosenkavalier adorning Korngold's most durable movie score soon seemed only fitting as a now celebrated Marschallin took the stage. Renee Fleming was sensational: She gave Previn and us a highly nuanced account of Strauss's Four Last Songs. She gave "Frühling", the opening song, a breathless, trembling quality, and the final stanza of "September" was literally breathtaking.
And there was more. The pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet's gift was Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand and he performed wonders with just five digits covering the length and breadth of the keyboard.
And then Previn's orchestra left him and his glamorous wife - the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter - to canoodle with a Tango Song and Dance. I quite liked the way the "song" kept promising a golden oldie only to wrong-foot us with the harmony. Previn seemed to shed a few years at the piano. But with Mutter's seductive violin whispering sweet somethings in his ear was that so surprising?
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