Bohemian Spring Preview

Written by: Colin Anderson

It has an inviting title, the LSO’s new series of Czech music concerts, which opened last Sunday with Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, a curious choice perhaps for the curtain-raiser event. Different aspects of Dvorak’s creativity and those of other Czech composers will be heard over the next few weeks as the LSO take us along the Vltava in Smetana’s Ma Vlast, a rare complete performance on 29 March, and ignite Martinu’s passionate response to the Nazi’s invasion of his homeland in 1938 – his Concerto for double string orchestra (with piano and timpani) is heard on 21 March.

That programme also includes the lyrical and reflective Rhapsody that Martinu wrote for viola and orchestra and Dvorak’s great Seventh Symphony. The conductor for this concert is Sir Colin Davis, the LSO’s principal – he also conducts Ma Vlast – and while he is a noted Dvorak interpreter, one doesn’t especially associate him with other Bohemian composers – not even Mahler! So when Sir Colin leads Janacek’s Taras Bulba and Dvorak’s Te Deum (25 March) and more Janacek, Glagolitic Mass, on 22 April, it will not only be the superb music that warrants attention, it will be Sir Colin’s approach that is of especial interest.

That concert on 22 April will close Bohemian Spring and will culminate a three-concert climax. On the two nights before, as part of the Barbican Centre’s Great Performers series, Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Czech Philharmonic play Mozart, Prokofiev, Strauss and Mahler – what, no Czech music? – yes, Mahler was Bohemian (born in Kaliste) … but you know what I mean. Perhaps before Ashkenazy plays and directs Mozart’s D minor concerto (20 April) there might be room for Dvorak’s Carnival Overture or something like that?

The National Youth Orchestra is another guest and includes Josef Suk’s large-scale Asrael Symphony – the Angel of Death – in its programme on 10 April. Jiri Belohlavek will no doubt be a very sympathetic and helpful guide through this music at rehearsals. He also conducts the LSO in the opening concerts. Dvorak’s Stabat Mater has come and gone, but his lyrical and dancing Violin Concerto is arriving this Thursday (8 March) with Sarah Chang, in company with Josef Suk (who was Dvorak’s pupil and son-in-law) whose sunny Fantastic Scherzo – with a wonderful ’big tune’ – is rather different in mood to Asrael. Janacek’s brass-dominated Sinfonietta closes the concert.

It’s strings all the way on Sunday 18 March when one of the LSO’s Leaders, Alexander Barantschik, directs his colleagues in the delights of Dvorak’s and Suk’s Serenades.

Then it’s all-voices. The London Symphony Chorus under Stephen Westrop perform a wide-ranging programme from Zelenka (born 1679) to Petr Eben (born 1929) – the only living Czech composer in the whole series it should be noted – via Dvorak, Janacek, Novak and Martinu (6 April).

It’s with a sense of joy I think of the uplifting coda to Dvorak’s Te Deum – chorus and orchestra re-united under Colin Davis (25 March) – and fondly remember some excellent beer in Prague last year. Let’s raise a glass to Bohemian Spring!

  • LSO concerts on 7 and 8 March (Jiri Belohlavek), 18 (LSO Strings), 21, 25 & 29 March and 22 April (Sir Colin Davis)
  • LSO Chorus – 8 April
  • National Youth Orchestra/Belohlavek – 10 April
  • Czech Philharmonic/Ashkenazy – 20 & 21 April
  • All concerts in the Barbican Hall at 7.30
  • Box Office 020 7638 8891
  • Online booking
  • Read Richard Whitehouse’s review of the opening concert

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