CZECH FESTIVAL AT THE CADOGAN HALL
Dvořák, Smetana, Martinů and Hummel
Dvořák: Polonaise from Rusalka, op.114 (1900)
Smetana: Polka from The Bartered Bride (1886/1870)
Martinů: Concerto for two violins (1950)
Dvořák: Symphony No.9 in E minor, From the New World, op.95 (1893)
Smetana: Má Vlast (1874/1879)
Antonin Hradil, Jiri Hurnik – violins,
Martinů: Piano Quartet No.1 (1942)
Smetana: Piano Trio in G minor (1855)
Dvorak: Piano Quintet in A major, op.81 (1887)
The Schubert Ensemble Cadogan Hall, London, 5 February 2010
Smetana: Overture: The Bartered Bride (1866/1870)
Dvořák: Violin Concerto in A minor, op.53 (1879 rev 1880 rev 1882)
Hummel: Trumpet Concerto in E (1803)
Dvořák: Symphony No.8 in G, op.88 (1889)
Charlie Siem – violin, Jan Hasenöhrl – trumpet, Czech National Symphony Orchestra/Petr Altrichter
The Cadogan Hall hosted four concerts which make up part of the Czech Festival currently taking place in London, and we are to be grateful to the excellent Zurich International Concert Series, which is held each year at the Cadogan, for allowing us to hear the wonderful Czech National Symphony Orchestra in three concerts. The first two were conducted by its chief conductor, Libor Pešek, and he brought some splendid music making for us. Pešek is well known here through his work with the Liverpool Philharmonic, of which he was chief conductor from 1987 to 1998, and his advocacy of the music of his homeland is second to none. In his first concert he gave a sparkling performance of Martinů’s Concerto for two violins, a late work, written in America, and the two leaders of the orchestra stepping up and playing superbly, obviously enjoying the lightheartedness of the piece, this is a very sunny and joyous work, and the obvious jollity. After the interval we were given a marvelous performance of Dvořák’s New World Symphony with splendid playing from all sections, especially the brass, and a gorgeous cor anglais solo in the slow movement. Pešek built the work with care, making the climaxes really tell as high points within the compositional flow. I heard this work eight times last year but no performance could match the poetry and fire Pešek and his players gave us.
For his second appearance Pešek gave us Smetana’s Má Vlast complete, without interval, and this was a performance to be relished. It goes without saying that this music is close to the hearts of the musicians and this performance was imbued with tenderness and loving warmth, but Pešek wasn’t afraid to turn nasty when the music demanded it and Šárka (the third poem) was fearsome to hear – he pulled no punches in this tale of the woman who swears vengeance on men and his approach was both frightening as well as passionate. The final two poems, Táborand Blanik, can so easily descend into banality because of the somewhat too obvious martial music, but here Pešek emphasized the lyrical episodes and thus made a more poetic and satisfying conclusion to the cycle.
Before the final orchestral concert the Schubert Ensemble treated us to an evening of chamber music and this was most welcome. Martinů’s delightful Piano Quartet (designated number one but it was never given a sequel) made a good opener for the delightful chatter of the first movement made us feel as if we were in on some gorgeous gossip, before things became more serious. The Smetana Piano Trio is a big piece, with pretensions to being an orchestral work, so thick are the textures! Despite the somewhat ripe writing for the strings this is a superb piece and one can only imagine that it is so seldom heard because of the obvious difficulties of balance and stamina required by the players. No such problems for the members of the Schubert Ensemble who rose to the challenge and gave a magnificent performance, as they did of the final work in their programme - Dvořák’s delicious Piano Quintet in A, op.81. A very welcome evening of chamber music in superb performances.
The final show brought us the Czech National again, this time under the baton of Pešek’s successor at Liverpool – Petr Altrichter – who directed a breezy Bartered Bride Overture, but didn’t allow the music to run away with itself and held it in check. This was a fabulous lesson in how to achieve a tempo which felt fast enough but still allowed the music to speak clearly and precisely. Charlie Siem joined the orchestra for a fine performance of the Dvořák Violin Concerto and together they forged a performance which almost had one believing that this was a better work than it actually is. Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto was a joy, with Jan Hasenöhrl, the principal trumpet of the orchestra, taking centre stage and dazzling with his virtuosity and superb lyrical abilities. The whole series ended with a truly spontaneous account of Dvořák’s 8th Symphony, which was almost breathless in its boundless enthusiasm.
It was a privilege to hear such fine music making from both orchestra and ensemble.