Tuesday March 5 2019

Composer, conductor, pianist and communicator André Previn has a close connection with British music, one that was cemented through his lengthy tenure as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra throughout the 1970s. We’re pleased to mention that during that time that he also established a connection with Benjamin Britten, with the Aldeburgh Festival and even, in the memory of one former Britten-Pears Foundation Trustee, Aldeburgh’s well known culinary delights.

Previn’s discography comprises recordings with the LSO of the ‘Four Sea Interludes’ and ‘Passacaglia’ from Peter Grimes as well as the Sinfonia da Requiem. It wasn’t solely Britten’s orchestral music that interested him. He recorded both voice and orchestra during the summer of 1978, assembling the LSO Chorus, St Clement Danes School Boys’ Choir as well as soloists Sheila Armstrong, Janet Baker and Robert Tear for a new version of the Spring Symphony. A work of varying moods, Previn gave a faithful reading, creating a sensitive balance between singers and the considerable and varied instrumental forces the symphony requires. He demonstrated, perhaps, the benefit the interpretation that a conductor who also happens to be a composer can make; something Britten would certainly have understood.

Peter Pears, André Previn Benjamin Britten and Elisabeth Söderström (with Rita Thomson in background) discussing Britten’s Our Hunting Fathers performed on 11 June, 1976 at the Aldeburgh Festival.Photographer: Nigel Luckhurst © Britten–Pears Foundation.

Previn had the opportunity to follow Britten’s guidance first-hand in at least one of his pieces, as this photograph shows. They are here consulting the score of Our Hunting Fathers in preparation for a concert at the 1976 Aldeburgh Festival, Britten’s last as it happened. Previn is also gaining insight from Peter Pears, who recorded the work in 1961, as is Elisabeth Söderström (the piece was originally written for a soprano soloist), who was accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra under Previn’s direction. Haydn’s Symphony No. 87 in A and Mozart’s piano concerto in C minor K.491 were also performed, with Previn as soloist for the Mozart. Rosamund Strode’s programme note for the concert points out that Mozart composed the concerto whilst also engaged in writing Le nozze di Figaro as well as three other concertos. He also gave the premiere of K.491—a feat of industry that only a musician of Previn’s abilities could match.

It was not unusual to have a conductor of Previn’s stature perform at the Festival although it was perhaps a little less ordinary to see him and his then wife actress Mia Farrow in a queue at Aldeburgh’s Cross Keys tavern, waiting for chips. That image—and the concert too—was one of the abiding memories of former Britten-Pears Foundation Trustee, the late Dr John Evans of his first visit in the summer of 1976 to The Red House.

Previn and Farrow combined talents in 1973 to make, with the LSO, a recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (which Farrow narrated) and The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. It was an ideal project for Previn the communicator to work on as his passion for teaching, explicating and performing comes through in every note. He conducted The Young Person’s Guide again in one of his well-known André Previn’s Music Night television programmes for the BBC. This took place in the Fairfield Hall, Croydon the year after Britten’s death, where he guided the LSO and his audience through a lively concert that also featured the music of Edward Elgar, Malcolm Arnold and William Walton.

Presenter and authority on the work he was performing were additional skills of this immensely talented man. One imagines that Previn’s natural gift for bringing music of all kinds into the lives of countless people is one that Britten would have greatly admired.