The Bartered Bride – Overture
Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70
Daniil Trifonov (piano)
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: 15 October, 2015
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The opening flourish of the Overture to The Bartered Bride is succeeded by a passage that always seems like an example of cruelty to the second-violin section for these players are required repeatedly to play flurries of notes pianissimo subject to the instruction Vivacissimo. Only after 40 bars are they afforded some relief as the violas join them. Under the direction of Jakub Hrůša the Philharmonia Orchestra strings were incredibly precise and wonderfully hushed. This brief episode typified both the accuracy and the sensitivity of the musicians and the notable skill of the conductor: Brno-born Hrůša studied in and now lives in Prague. He was certainly on home ground and the Overture was presented in a spectacularly vital way and how delightful to have Smetana’s charming use of the piccolo featured so clearly, a foretaste of the orchestral expertise and Czech authenticity to come.
Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto required a different skill and here Hrůša, as throughout, conducted without a score and was absolutely at one with the soloist. The very first rich string melody was shaped thoughtfully and indeed romantically as it might have been phrased by a pianist. The many swirling piano flourishes that support the orchestral melodies found Daniil Trifonov calmly flowing his way through them, clearly aware when to yield to the orchestra; however there was no modesty when Rachmaninov gives him the major, passionate themes. The precise similarity of phrasing between pianist and orchestra was remarkable.
Rachmaninov’s themes require careful shaping which involves freedom of tempo yet the forward motion was never impeded as one melody flowed into another. The beautiful and evocative horn solo in the latter part of the opening movement was taken as broadly as I have ever heard, yet there was no sense of the musical current being impeded, so subtly was the adjustment of tempo made.
The Adagio was remarkable for the quietness of playing from all and the fiery Finale made it clear that excitement was the result of all parties combining to promote the passionate nature of the music. Trifonov was well capable of conquering the demanding technical requirements, yet in this interpretation it was the unity of the performers that spoke so successfully for Rachmaninov’s passionate muse, and, rather than waiting for the first curtain call, the orchestra members enthusiastically applauded Trifonov the moment he stood up after completing the performance. As an encore, he offered something of his own, the first movement of Rachmaniana.
After the interval, Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony was given a very Bohemian outing, full of subtle detail and careful balancing. A good example of Hrůša’s idiomatic approach was to be found in the slight stressing of the fourth note of the five-note phrase that opens the Scherzo and the lilt of the rhythm as the movement progressed; those same inflections of rhythm are evident in Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances. Characteristic of Hrůša’s expressive way of phrasing was the shaping of the links between episodes in the first two movements without any loss of impulse. Similarly the tricky changes of gear required, when typically Dvořák ends a movement at a faster tempo, were all coped with smoothly and skilfully.
The Finale followed attacca – very convincing. The music journeyed with confidence. There was a moment however when Hrůša’s approach did not convince. This occurred at the noble cello-based theme at bar 103 which might be described as the ‘second subject’. Here the music should thrust forward but unfortunately the impulse slackened. No change of tempo is indicated, the composer merely marks it espressivo and the same undermining of tension occurred at the theme’s restatement. This meant that because the immediate reiteration of the melody by full orchestra was taken at the original faster tempo, the same theme was presented at two different speeds. Go to the recordings by Barbirolli and Rowicki and this idea can be heard striding forward at its every appearance.
This uncomfortable moment apart, Hrůša led a dynamic account in which attention to balance revealed inner parts which rarely feature. This was a reading which neared the class of the interpretation by Jaroslav Krombholc, which I consider to be the finest live performance of Dvořák 7 that I have ever encountered.