Má vlast – Vltava
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.8 in G, Op.88
François-Frédéric Guy (piano)
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: 11 April, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Juraj Valcuha’s enticing Sunday-afternoon programme kicked-off in fine style with a warmly expressive ‘Vltava’; Valcuha charting the river’s course from the trickling streams in the Bohemian countryside (deliciously played by flautists Karen Jones and June Scott) through the St John’s Rapids, with the Philharmonia strings playing the great theme with real affection. A touch of bombast though detracted slightly from the nobility of the recurring ‘Vyšehrad tune in the closing passages.
François-Frédéric Guy is currently performing the entire cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas and piano concertos around the world. With such keen familiarity with the music it was no surprise that Guy’s account of the Fourth Piano Concerto was immaculately prepared and despatched with consummate refinement. Perhaps too refined though; there was never a sense of the combustibility in this music, especially in the playful exchanges between soloist and orchestra in the finale. He was not helped by some sluggish tempos set by Valcuha, which robbed the music of tension in the outer movements. There was lots to admire from Guy, with his keen sense of architecture and admirable balance between poetry and poise, although this was not a performance for those wanting fireworks. Introspection and lyricism were the bywords here, working to good effect in the slow movement, where his control and concentration came to the fore.
Valcuha’s Dvořák was solid if unspectacular. The opening movement featured some vividly colourful playing from the Philharmonia’s winds, the flute’s chirpy birdcalls a delight. The Adagio and the Allegretto did not quite come off. Fine playing again from the all-important woodwinds but some tired-sounding violins could not bring the requisite charm to Dvořák’s rustic melodies in the second movement. There was warmth in abundance in the lyrical third-movement waltz, the violins here sounding fresher and more alert, but the lack of forward momentum was a hindrance. The finale was appropriately exciting with rasping brass and vivid timpani bringing the work to a rousing conclusion.