Czech Philharmonic/Jiří Bělohlávek – Kopelent & Brahms – Kirill Gerstein plays Strauss & Prokofiev

Greetings, Overture for Orchestra
Burlesque for Piano and Orchestra
Piano Concerto No.1 in D flat, Op.10
Serenade No.2 in A, Op.16

Kirill Gerstein (piano)

Czech Philharmonic [Česká filharmonie]
Jiří Bělohlávek

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 26 October, 2012
Venue: Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague

Jiří Bělohlávek. ©Clive BardaAn imaginative and stimulating programme (played here for the third time) from the Czech Philharmonic under the considered and probing direction of its new Chief Conductor Jiří Bělohlávek (returning to the position he occupied between 1990 and 1992) in the glorious acoustic of the Dvořák Hall in Prague’s Rudolfinum.

The Czech composer Marek Koplent (born 1932) suffered and was silenced during the Communist regime because of his refusal to accept the doctrines of the “Normalisation” policy, despite having much success in the 1960s. Greetings is from 1984 when commissions came from abroad but he was unable to attend their premieres. It was only after the Velvet Revolution (1989) that he was rehabilitated and his works reappeared in Czech concert halls.

The 10-minute Greetings is a rhapsodic work, heavily scored for full orchestra including organ. A work of contrasts, Greetings reminds of Mahler. Bold writing distinguishes the writing and it creates kaleidoscopic textures, here brought vividly to life, its riotous closing motifs terrific fun. The composer was present.

Kirill Gerstein. Photograph: Marco BorggreveRichard Strauss’s Burleske, premiered when the composer was 26, is a bit like a concerto-in-one-movement, with numerous shifts in mood. Kirill Gerstein brought out the entertaining and technically demanding writing, investing the notes with much swagger in the dramatic sections and opulence in the sweeping melodies. Gerstein’s playing was admirable throughout, and the (also one-movement) Prokofiev found him continuing the great form: his command of the virtuosic writing was thrilling, equalled by the orchestra.

Brahms’s Second Serenade (scored without violins, trumpets or timpani) proved the Czech Philharmonic, producing a beautiful sound to complement the splendid hall. The opening Allegro moderato was genial and vigorous. The following scherzo was lively, the woodwinds (superb throughout the concert) buoyant and sprightly. The subtle and deeply felt playing of the central Adagio was a delight. The melodies of the Quasi menuetto fed into each other with delicacy and precision; and the finale was dynamic and uplifting, flutes and horns particularly attractive.

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