What was Bank Holiday Monday's evening Prom all about? "Back to Bohemia"? "England at the Crossroads: 1934"?
What was Bank Holiday Monday's evening Prom all about? "Back to Bohemia"? "England at the Crossroads: 1934"? "East/ West"? Possibly. "Other Anniversaries"? Perhaps. But so thin are some justifications for concerts under "Prom Themes and Anniversaries" that it might be kinder to leave some to wither.
A huge audience witnessed a pitiful sight. André Previn in his life has indeed travelled from East to West, if Berlin to Hollywood is the understanding. And he is celebrating his 75th year. But it was quite a shock to see a small, frail man approach the podium and realise that not only was this the new music director of the Oslo Philharmonic, but also "Mr Preview".
Previn has not appeared at the Proms since 1987, when he came as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Previn has remained close to the LSO, but it has been apparent in recent years that the orchestra has carried him rather than the other way round. And now, alas, this seems to be happening with the Oslo Philharmonic.
From the first work, Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, the pattern was clear: Previn, head down in the score, doing little but time-keeping, turning only occasionally to bring in certain players, visibly gripping his music-stand for support. Shaping? Forget it. Tension? Forget it. Debussy's lavishly erotic tone poem was dead in the water despite the coolest of colours from the fine Oslo wind.
Previn's Violin Concerto Anne-Sophie felt like the longest violin concerto ever written. "Look at her! Look at her!" gasped my neighbour breathlessly. Yes, a beautiful figure, backless and strapless in her model's gown. And radiant - this was a pre-nuptial gift from her new husband. The concerto, receiving its Proms premiere, is in three movements. The first is described by Previn as "the most lush and conservative of the three". The soloist enters almost at once with, indeed, lush, arching material. Mutter has one of the sweetest of tones, particularly when she plays softly and tenderly - and there was plenty of that. Material is not developed but juxtaposed; the overall result: Prokofiev meets Walton. The second movement is called "Cadenza - Slowly". Again, Mutter beautifully played and shaped the bleakish material. Her range of colours is wide - her non-vibrato playing is striking - and she soars lyrically, musically and effortlessly. The last movement, "Andante: From a train in Germany", is in variation form, a classic excuse to go on and on. Richard Strauss seemed to be a passenger, throwing in the odd idea. But no amount of contrasting slush and syncopation could cover tensionless, structural noodling.
Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony was a limp affair, limply directed. Mariss Jansons' once-fine Oslo Philharmonic did its best.
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