André Previn – A Celebration (The conductor’s personal selection from his DGG & Decca recordings) – Double Concerto for Violin and Bass; Piano Concerto; “Anne-Sophie” Violin Concerto; Three Dickinson Songs; Diversions; Sea Air; RAVEL: L’Enfant et les sortileges; Ma Mere l’Oye; PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 1; SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 8; KORNGOLD: Symphony in F Sharp; Violin Concerto; R. STRAUSS: Symphonia Domestica; Rosenkavalier Suite – London Sym. Orch./Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Boston Sym. Orch./ Vienna Philharmonic/Andre Previn – DGG 477 8114 (6 CDs) *****:
Few personalities in music have had such a varied career as Andre Previn. This collection celebrates his 80th birthday. Born in Berlin, he settled with his family in Los Angeles and eventually landed a job at MGM in Hollywood as an arranger, orchestrator and eventually a full-fledged composer. At the same time he was carrying on another career as an in-demand jazz pianist, who performed and recorded with Shelly Manne and many others and made some of the classic piano trio albums which are still most popular.
While studying composition and conducting MGM musicians in classical repertory (for a mid-50s MGM classical LP label noted for the total lack of reverberation in its recordings) the idea of becoming a “real” conductor took hold of Previn. He was able to take lessons from Pierre Monteux, who was then conductor of the San Francisco Symphony. He won four Oscars for his film scores in the late 60s but also began winning conducting posts on both sides of the Atlantic. He was conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra for 11 years. He also became a music educator on British and American TV, and has made several jazz CDs for Telarc.
Previn’s affinities in classical music are extremely far-ranging, as shown by the selections he chose for this boxed album of six CDs. Each one is packed to near the maximum – in fact the one containing both his concertos for violin and bass plus his piano concerto plus the Prokofiev Violin Concerto is over 81 minutes – really pushing the CD maximum storage limit. There are important British composers, the great French Impressionists, important Russians such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev, the special late Romantic world of Richard Strauss, and an entire disc devoted to Korngold – who like Previn operated in the two worlds of Hollywood soundtracks and the concert stage.
The Ravel “L’Enfant” is one of his loveliest vocal-orchestral dramatic works, but the notes fail to offer an libretto or even a synopsis and I was too lazy to dig out my old LP version – back when labels always provided that necessity. Previn’s most recent ex-wife (of five), Ann-Sophie Mutter, is the superb soloist in the Prokofiev, Korngold and Previn violin concertos. The Shostakovich Eighth is not one of my favorite symphonies of the difficult composer, but I can see why Previn selected this moving performance for the set. His treatment of the Viennese schmaltz of Strauss’ Rosenkavalier Suite is rich and juicy. Previn’s own works are not known for their striking melodies but neither are they serialized. Being partial to piano concertos I enjoyed his three-movement work in this set, which I had not heard before. It features Vladimir Ashkenazy as the soloist. The unusual concerto for both violin and doublebass is heard here in its first published recording. His vocal writing is illustrated by the Three Emily Dickinson Songs sung by Renee Fleming and her delivery of the short aria “I can smell the sea air” from the score to his opera A Streetcar Named Desire, which premiered in San Francisco with the SF Symphony.
Except for the Dickinson Songs all of these recordings are from live performances and the sonics are first rate. There is a competing Previn set on EMI of recordings from his London Symphony Orchestra years, which contains ten CDs and different repertory at about the same price.
– John Sunier