Czech National Symphony Orchestra/Pešek at Cadogan Hall – 1

Rusalka – Polonaise
The Bartered Bride – Polka
Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Jiri Hurnik & Antonin Hradil (violins)

Czech National Symphony Orchestra
Libor Pešek

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 2 February, 2010
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Libor PešekThis was the first of three concerts being given in Cadogan Hall by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and Libor Pešek.

The Polonaise from Dvořák’s “Rusalka” made a joyful opening item, its main theme taken broadly and impressively. Thereafter there was some delightful playing from the wind section, and also from the strings in the soulful central melody. Pešek then deftly handled the transition back to the main theme and brought the work to a nicely graduated and brilliant close, confident brass and timpani to the fore.

This sense of well-being was bolstered by another Bohemian favourite, the ‘Polka’ from Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride”. Although the violins of this Czech orchestra may not have the sheen and seasoned timbre of a longer established band, its players responded with whole-hearted enthusiasm to Pešek’s direction. He deftly negotiated them through the various episodes, taking great care over expressive details and bringing the piece to an invigorating close with a finely calibrated crescendo.

The soloists in the very attractive Martinů Concerto for Two Violins, Jiri Hurnik and Antonin Hradil (the orchestra’s co-concertmasters), gave a spirited reading, albeit an occasional roughness of tone was in evidence. The work, in three movements, was written in New York in 1950, and dedicated to the virtuoso twins Gerald and Wilfred Beal. It begins with one of those big swinging tunes so typical of this composer. The soloists soon parlay vibrantly, accompanied by brass and (here excellent) chirruping winds. In the yearning second movement the soloists played with much warmth and refinement. This work deserves much wider currency.

The performance of the ‘New World’ Symphony was refreshingly direct, the orchestra responding to Pešek to achieve telling variations of tempo and shading. There was euphonious playing from the brass and bassoons at the opening of the Largo, and notable smoothness of tone from Dana Wichterlova in the cor anglais solo. This very able ensemble produced exciting and tender results in the scherzo and finale, the latter fading gently away at the end to the sound of clarinet, horns, and bassoons in perfect harmony. For an encore the penultimate of Dvořák’s sixteen Slavonic Dances was played with spirit and affection.

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