Bohemian Spring Series – 25th March

The Eternal Gospel
Taras Bulba
Symphonic Variations
Te Deum

London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Reviewed by: David Wordsworth

Reviewed: 25 March, 2001
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Another concert in the Bohemian Spring series brought together the series’ most familiar composers – Dvorak and Janáček in a concert of fervent and enthusiastic music-making. The series has (quite rightly) been criticised for lack of adventure as far as repertoire is concerned. However Janáček’s cantata The Eternal Gospel is hardly a frequent visitor to UK concert halls; indeed, I cannot ever remember hearing a live performance.

Though written in 1913-14, but not performed until 1917, it is fascinating to hear hints of great Janáček works to come – most obviously of all the full-blooded choral writing with shouts of Alleluias that hint at the Amens of the Glagolitic Mass. The winning soloist of the evening was Vladimir Dolezal whose high, dramatic-tenor suited Janáček’s demanding writing perfectly – a wonderful performance. Unlike soprano Andrea Dankova (who appeared more concerned with various attachments of her dress), he seemed to be able to project over anything that Janáček and the LSO could throw at him. The LSO Chorus once again proved to be head-and-shoulders over most other choruses. Not having that much Czech at my disposal, I cannot vouch for how accurate the pronunciations were, but it sounded enormously convincing – the passion in the singing, without which Janáček performances come close to disaster, was awe-inspiring.

Until this concert I would not have counted Janáček as a composer associated with Sir Colin Davis – in fact, to be honest, I thought it all might be a little too rough-edged for him. However, in The EternalGospel and Taras Bulba, he demonstrated his understanding and drove his orchestra to ever-more vigorous playing. The war-like encounters and gruesome deaths told in Bulba are vividly painted in Janáček’s music and were brought to breathtaking life by Sir Colin and the LSO – the resplendent ending with chiming bells, organ and harp was a stunning end to the concert’s first half.

A little calm, not to say humour, returned in the second half withDvořák’s delightful Symphonic Variations, a really marvellous piece that should appear on programmes at least as often as some of the overplayed symphonies. Particularly noticeable here was the contribution of various woodwind players, each relishing their solo opportunities. Looking around the audience, Dvořák seems to have the same effect on most people that he has on me: a way of making one think that the world isn’t such a terrible place after all. His Te Deum made a suitably uplifting conclusion – once again the chorus was on terrific form; the soloists (Dankova again and Alastair Miles were underpowered and seemed disinterested) – with Sir Colin gallantly taking care of Dankova’s dress attachments!

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