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Previn's Concerto evokes childhood and life's experiences

| Saturday, April 24, 2004

Andre Previn's own compositions have been the high points of recent Pittsburgh Symphony concerts led by the former music director, including a concert version of his opera "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Friday evening he introduced his Violin Concerto played by his wife, Anne-Sophie Mutter, for whom it was written.

Previn's Concerto is a beautiful -- even endearing -- and large-scale piece, lasting 40 minutes in performance and much longer in its aesthetic scope. It evokes childhood, life's experiences, and the new view of what we thought we knew now clarified by experience.

This perspective is emphasized by basing the finale on a folk tune he loved as a child, and which his wife also loved when she was a child. The earlier music leads to the rediscovery of an old favorite.

The Concerto is full of allusions to musical styles, composers and even specific pieces -- music of significance in his life. But if as whiffs of harmony and touches of orchestration they are all elements of contemporary eclecticism, Previn's Concerto is convincingly individual because of the use to which he puts them as his music unfolds.

If Previn gives the violin soloist every opportunity to shine, Mutter responds with touching individuality. The two made an excellent recording of the concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon, but last night's performance at Heinz Hall was full of fresh details, emphasizing that notated music's potential for spontaneity.

The concert was completed by a nearly full performance of Maurice Ravel's ballet "Daphnis and Chloe." Most often only the final sections of the ballet are heard under the title "Suite No. 2," often performed without Ravel's chorus.

Previn oddly chose to omit the chorus from his performance of the full ballet, which robs the music of sensual intensity and also necessitated a cut in the score when the chorus sings a capella -- unaccompanied by the orchestra.

However, the solo and ensemble virtuosity of the Pittsburgh Symphony was exciting to experience and served Ravel's music well.

Prior to the concert, a group of string students from the Ellis School gave a lobby concert, events which are good for the children and for adults to appreciate just how broadly based musical life is in our community.

This concert will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

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