(Here’s another one of my reviews from olden days, written as a freelancer for the Los Angeles Times. Notice the date: What many of us forget is that Previn actually returned to conduct the orchestra after his acrimonious departure from the position of its music director. This review isn’t as sassy as my recently shared Perlman review, but it’s pointed. –TM)
MUSIC REVIEW : Previn Leads Philharmonic ‘Nutcracker’ at Pavilion
January 18, 1992|TIMOTHY MANGAN
Conductors usually get what they ask for. Trouble is, Andre Previn didn’t seem to ask for much Thursday.
On the podium, he was pretty much the traffic cop. Expressive gestures were few, cues for entrances and beat patterns soberly laid out. He often looked bored–and the playing, not surprisingly, reflected this. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
These thoughts occur because during his latest program at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Previn did occasionally give more, did show more physical involvement with the music, and it was interesting to hear how the Los Angeles Philharmonic responded: at times subtly, at others, more obviously and robustly, every time with more intensity. It left one listener feeling both cheated and heartened.
Act II of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet made up the second half of the program, in a, by turns, lush and fluid, sluggish and lazy performance. Previn enforced instrumental balance and orderly detail, a general tidiness of execution and sparkling orchestral color.
What he did not always capture was the magic in this most magical of scores, an emotive lyrical line or rhythmic urgency and bounce. Where was the all-out gusto of the basses in the “Trepak,” the spiciness of Spain in “Chocolate,” the irresistible lilt of the “Waltz of the Flowers”? He provided color only, not character. Tchaikovsky winds up most of the dances with the musical equivalents of exclamation points; Previn supplied periods.
At his best, however, our former music director could coax a dashing elegance from the orchestra, urge a hefty climax or hypnotic hush. At the peak of the Pas de Deux, Previn wound up, knees bent, head down, arms high over his head, and gave out a loud growl as he flew into the downbeat. The Philharmonic instantly responded with playing of great urgency. If only he showed such involvement more consistently . . . .
The concert had opened with as dry a run-through of Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” Overture as one is likely to hear–the violins sounding especially lackadaisical–then continued with the Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467, with Radu Lupu as soloist. The Romanian pianist, a frequent visitor here since the early ’70s, offered a small scale reading–within its range, expressive.
That range precluded, however, demonstrative drama and full-blown fortes, of both of which this concerto is capable. If one could be satisfied with gentle point, subtly shifting colors and gently nuanced singing lines, one had found one’s man par excellence in Lupu. His bare bones reading of the Andante eschewed, though not so detrimentally, present-day ornamental practices.
Previn gave a detailed, understated accompaniment, gracefully shaping phrases with his left hand, making points by backing off. This was drawing-room Mozart, polite, polished and genuinely pretty. To expect more is probably asking too much.