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Smetana, Bartók, Martinů and Stravinsky

Smetana: The Bartered Bride - Overture (1863/1866)
Bartók: Dance Suite (1923)
Martinů: Concerto for 2 pianos (1943)
Stravinsky: Petrushka (1947 version)

Jaroslava Pěchočová, Václav Mácha – pianos;
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jiří Bělohlávek

Prom 15: Royal Albert Hall – 27 July 2009


Tonight’s concert found Jiří Bělohlávek on more familiar ground than on the First Night. A bright and breezy, but rather charmless, Bartered Bride  Overture, missed the essential humour of the piece by taking it far too fast.


Bělohlávek settled down with a stunning account of Bartók’s Dance Suite, the five dances were well characterised with the grotesque elements well pointed, lots of gypsy fiddling and, as one would expect from this composer, a very mysterious piece of night music with gorgeous solos from Alison Teale (cor anglais) and Emma Canavan (bass clarinet). The final dance was particularly well handled with a suitably spectacular conclusion to this marvelous work.


In the 50th anniversary year of his death, it is good to see Bohuslav Martinů's music being programmed. This orchestra is to give all the six Symphonies in the coming season,. Although Martinů wrote too much, his work is more than deserving of our attention and this Concerto for 2 pianos, which was written after Martinů had emigrated to the United States, is still full of the sounds of his homeland – apart from his jazz inspired music, almost everything he wrote is redolent of Czechoslovakia. Martinů said that he was a “concerto grosso kind of composer” and by this I have always assumed that he meant that the baroque gave him a starting point in his thinking. This Concerto certainly has that feel to it, for it doesn’t have the piano versus orchestra form, here everyone works together and discusses the music in dialogue. The first movement is full of the neo classical chatter so characteristic of Martinů and the slow movement, whilst occasionally brooding and dark, contains some beautiful scoring for the woodwinds. The finale lets the piece down slightly for it isn’t quite up to the standard set by the first two movements, but it’s delightful in its own way and is light and attractive. Tonight’s performance, although nimble and airy, was somehow, like the Smetana Overture, lacking in charm and the loose formal procedures Martinů employs did not hang together in a convincing way.


For Petrushka the BBC Symphony gave their best. This was a scintillating performance, with all the textures clearly audible throughout, Bělohlávek in full control of the progress of the music. The opening was forthright and full blooded, there was drama when necessary and the moments of parody were never allowed to go over the top. The final scene at the fair was a real joy, with a marvelous display of orchestral colour and a real swagger to the music.


David Bird