The Cunning Little Vixen

The Cunning Little Vixen – Suite [edited Mackerras]
Concerto in E flat for two pianos, K365
Symphony No.7 in D minor, Op.70

Till Fellner & Paul Lewis (pianos)

BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Richard Hickox

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 July, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Working backwards, what is arguably Dvořák’s greatest symphony seemed here rather less so. For all that Richard Hickox was alive to the music’s fire, urgency and lyricism, a conspicuous lack of soul and a rather ‘general’ pan-European view of the symphony minimised the Slavonic aspects of the work and its powerful sense of identity. This straightforward traversal – albeit with some ‘relaxation’ that seemed no more than sightseeing, and some rather obvious sign-posting (such as for the arrival, both times, of the glorious cello-led ‘second subject’ of the finale) – never really developed a tense enough argument. Come the close the grandiose final bars seemed out of place – a rhetorical bellowing capping a drama that had been kept somewhat under wraps. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales played well, though – some fine woodwind and horn solos – but balance favoured the horn consort, which tended to overwhelm the less-than-fulsome strings.

Following a 10-minute manoeuvre to get the pianos in place, Till Fellner and Paul Lewis (both requiring scores and page-turners) attended to the centrepiece of the concert – rather domestic Mozart that was somewhat lost in the expanse of the Royal Albert Hall. Lively and sensitive, both pianists made a well-matched team – but there were limitations and a tendency to be precious. Such blandness made the concerto rather less interesting than it can be with only the finale – at a well-judged tempo – offering some engagement. Hickox might have re-positioned the winds (pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns) – he might also have employed antiphonal violins throughout – so that they were more integrated; as it was they sounded as remote as country cousins to the city-slicker pianists.

Beginning the concert, and maybe raising expectations for the rest of the evening, was an engrossing account of Sir Charles Mackerras’s edition (using the composer’s original scoring) of the Suite from “The Cunning Little Vixen”. Hickox and the orchestra ensured that the arching lines and pointillist scoring cut through the air, the light-as-air textures and emotionally charged melodies made compelling and vividly suggestive of woodlands and their inner life. This deft, radiant account was finely attuned to the very specific, if quixotic world that Janáček created, and the final bars were exuberant and unforced.

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