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A Royal Sound With Chills

With the Norwegian Royalty looking on, André Previn led the Oslo Philharmonic in a WPAS-presented program of Ravel and Gershwin last Monday. Ravel's Alborada del gracioso, the fourth of the five Miroirs piano pieces was given in Ravel's own orchestration. With plenty of pretty "Spanish" accents, it's a fun, rambunctious thing and did not fail to entertain in the Norwegian Orchestra's well-honed rendition.

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G.Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue, American in Paris,
A.Previn / Pittsburgh SO

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M.Ravel, Daphnis et Chloé, La Valse,
P.Boulez / BPh

The Gershwin Piano Concerto in F was played by Previn himself, and if his walking betrayed a certain frailty, his conducting and playing certainly did not. With plenty of snap and crackle he led the orchestra through the work by flinging whichever free hand he had at them. The 1925 concerto fit the bill, with its good amount of similarities to the Ravel Piano Concerto in the first movement. Towards the second movement (with a very R. Straussian violin solo) it becomes more reminiscent of its more famous, if less interesting, predecessor, the Rhapsody in Blue. The audience thanked Mr. Previn for the taut, energetic performance with warm applause and (automatic) standing ovations.

The second half was opened with Ravel’s Shéhérazade, to a text by Wagner nut Arthur Leclaire (pen name: Tristan Klingsor...), sung by local Denyce Graves. The orchestra was consistently smooth, cohesive, and agile. I wish the same could be said about Mme. Graves, but she seemed to be running on empty. Though her mezzo showed at points that it was based on the ruins of greatness, between Washington’s Il Trovatore, last Saturday's Met broadcast of Samson et Dalila and the Ravel, I dare say that her career is all but over. The high notes are no longer there, everything below mezzo-forte is weak, and the stability of the voice is betrayed by occasional wobbles. (The faint hope remains that 2004/05 was a particularly hard year for her and that she might recover yet.)

The second Daphnis and Chloé suite is an orchestral show piece that allows a good band to produce extraordinary colors and textures. Under the eyes of a gorgeous Anne-Sophie Mutter (my tact forbids me from pointing to possible questions her marriage to a man who had trouble mounting the rostrum might raise), Previn coaxed choice playing from the Scandinavians. Never feverishly inspired, but not just lifeless polish and politeness, either. Ravel's woodwind arpeggios behind the shimmering strings would make a Philip Glass proud, and a sound world filled the Kennedy Center's concert hall that left no one unmoved.

Edit: Presicent.