Czech Philharmonic/Jiři Bělohlávek at Usher Hall – The Bartered Bride & Dvořák 7 – Josef Špaček plays Mendelssohn and The Lark Ascending

The Bartered Bride – Overture, Furiant & Skočná
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

Josef Špaček (violin)

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Jiři Bělohlávek

Reviewed by: Gregor Tassie

Reviewed: 19 April, 2015
Venue: Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland

Jiři BělohlávekPhotograph: Vaclav JirasekThis penultimate concert in Edinburgh’s current Sunday series brought one of the world’s finest orchestras to the Scottish capital. For many years the Czech Philharmonic has graced the Edinburgh International Festival, invariably introducing music-lovers to the Czech masters – on this occasion Dvořák’s finest Symphony, the glorious Seventh – and some unequalled string-playing.

Three movements from Smetana‘s The Bartered Bride opened the concert, the effervescent Overture followed by the ‘Furiant’ and ‘Dance of the Comedians’ (‘Skočná’), the orchestra’s superb virtuosity gloriously distinguished. At the close of the Overture, applause broke out and Jiři Bělohlávek responded prematurely and left the podium until the leader reminded him that there was further music to play.

Josef ŠpačekPhotograph: www.josefspacek.comIn Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto, Josef Špaček (co-leader) revealed a beautiful singing tone and he played a marvellous cadenza, which was quite mesmerising in its breadth of colour. In the finale he brought great deftness of touch and there was a splendidly joyous culmination. This was a strikingly fresh account of a well-worn Concerto. In Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, the Czechs played as if it belonged to their core repertoire, very polished, the woodwinds especially, and with Špaček poetic.

In Dvořák’s Seventh, it was the eight basses hearing the orchestra’s low strings play the darkly-hued main idea was wonderful. Bělohlávek ensured a sense of great drama and especial roles were played by the spectacularly burnished brass and there were notable contributions from the clarinet of Tomas Kopaček and oboist Ivan Séquardt. This work embraces the great symphonic tradition and has its affinity with the Germanic tradition sharing Brahms’s austere yet classical harmonies, no less the lyricism of the slow movement. In the Scherzo the folk-style harmonies were enchantingly heard from the woodwinds and the positively brave finale brought this superb concert to a celebratory close.

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