As conductor laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn must have clocked up the longest relationship of his life. It's heading for ruby wedding status and still looks like love on both sides - probably more now than when he was principal conductor. Back then, his way with music of the classical era didn't please everybody, whereas the performance of Mozart's Prague Symphony that opened his current run of concerts was a feast of shared musicianship. It's good to hear this composer without a conductor's ego getting in the way.
The sparky woodwind, the finely balanced strings, the purposeful onward movement, all came over more in old-Viennese than modern-period style and none the worse for it. If the playing had a fault, it was an excess of good behaviour. A bit more of Mozart's own substantial ego wouldn't have gone amiss: fire and surprise instead of smooth shading all the time, a sense of dramatic arrival at the climax of the first movement and, in the next movement, something more sensual than a constant awareness of six beats to the bar.
With Richard Strauss on the other hand, any further inflation of anybody's ego is redundant. There's plenty of skill, wit and warmth in the detail, enough for any resourceful musician to play with and not need to labour the preposterous storytelling in his symphonic poems.
Once again, Previn was a clear-sighted guide who focused on the gathering tensions and fairly simple musical evolution in Death and Transfiguration, staying downbeat about the self-centred philosophy. We all hope our final moments might contain some definitive vision of the world's wholeness rather than dissolve in screaming agony, but Strauss's pompous scenario of glory in retrospect - which he wrote in his twenties - becomes less and less palatable as the years pass. Once popular, the piece is now relatively rare. A performance such as this, in which achieving symphonic wholeness is reward enough, might help rescue it.
The Piano Concerto No 1 by Brahms was equally alive with musical exchanges. Soloist Emanuel Ax joined in a couple of orchestra-only sections, with all the appearance of spontaneity, and turned considerate accompanist whenever the woodwind had a song to sing. As against that, his big moments were very big, and much of the first movement was slow and heavy with tendencies to expand further. There were times when Ax and Previn seemed at odds about how much give and take the music needed.
At the end of this movement, Ax was able to push the pace in an unaccompanied solo, leaving the orchestra no choice but to match him, and leaving listeners to wonder whether the previous quarter hour might have benefited from the same urgency. The rest of the concerto grew steadily better, through quiet sensitivity to a vigorous final workout.
Further LSO/Previn performances at the Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7539) tomorrow. Previn's opera 'A Streetcar Named Desire', 25 and 27 JuneReuse content