Má vlast [Vyehrad; Vltava; árka; Z českých luh û a hájú (From Bohemias Woods and Fields); Tábor; Blaník]
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Colin Davis Má Vlast
Thursday, March 29, 2001 Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Ive now heard 'My Country' three times at a London concert. The LSOs previous one under Jiří Bělohlávek was surprisingly sober for a Czech-born musician, and not helped by taking an interval; Leonard Slatkins Philharmonia Orchestra account formed an epic second half and included a thrilling 'árka' and a brilliantly-timed segue between 'Tábor' and 'Blaník'.
No interval with Sir Colin thought I; after all, he plays "The Dream of Gerontius" and Berlioz's "Romeo and Juliet" straight through. Wrong! The 30-minute interval, after 'árka', lost the plot somewhat. Smetanas nationalistic cycle of six symphonic poems, which celebrates Czechoslovakias landmarks, myths and history, is constructed in three lots of two. Thus 'Vyehrad', the high rock that marks the Vltavas entry into Prague, goes in tandem with the rivers very own musical picture that follows. The man-hating adventures of 'árka' take place in a wood; then Smetana evokes the Czech countryside itself. 'Tábor', the stronghold of the Hussites, the defenders of Czech identity, is musically linked with 'Blaník', the hollow hill where defeated Hussites take refuge, sleeping for centuries until their nation calls.
Sir Colin didnt attach the last two (which would have avoided the here we are again start to 'Blaník'); come the resolute closing bars, he re-introduced Tabors Hussite chorale with a jauntiness that suggested it had strayed from a comic-opera. Throughout this likeable performance, Colin Daviss conducting strengths were heard to advantage seriousness of purpose, a relish of dramatic and eloquent phrasing, as well as charm and a fire-in-the-belly bravura that, when it takes wing, as it did in the polka of 'From Bohemias Woods and Fields, grabs the attention, and which found a delightfully dipso-counterpart in the three-in-a-bar dance as soldiers indulge the booze just before árkas followers wipe them out! Come this bloody denouement Daviss foot found the brake rather than the accelerator.
Otherwise, solemnity, majesty and drama distinguished 'Vyehrad'; a powerful sense of physical movement, nobility and moonlit radiance coloured 'Vltava'; a relish of Berliozian touches of orchestration informed árka'; a vivid suggestion of grandeur and eeriness was conjured for the 'Woods and Fields'; and Davis displayed real identification with the Czech nations defiance and pride in 'Tábor' and 'Blaník'. The latters pastoral woodwind interlude - the warriors long-term slumber - was beautifully and tenderly played; but then the whole LSO was in superb form, not least the strings especially in the unanimous pointing of fast music. A shame that there were no microphones present for what proved a thoroughly enjoyable and spirit-raising evening.