Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra - Martinu, Tchaikovsky & Dvorak - 10/22/09

Conductor: Jakub Hrusa
Martinu: Estampes for Orchestra, H 369
Tchaikovsky: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 35 - Nicola Benedetti
Dvorak: Symphony No 7 in D Minor, Op. 70

After the short chamber music concert in the Church of Saint Nicholas, it was time to tackle the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in their home, the Rudolfinum, for an appropriately Czech composers-centered program featuring Martinu and Dvorak. But truth be told, my main reason to be there was rising Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti who was going to play my beloved Tchaikovsky violin concerto. The venue turned out to be welcoming but visually low-key, except for the mighty Greek columns surrounding the balcony, seemingly ready to sustain any kind of seismic event. The no less impressive chandelier was eye-popping too, but compared to the richly elaborated places to which I had been previously, this was definitely understated.

But the music was worth concentrating on. Martinu's piece was a good warm-up, with a lot of rhythm changes that made the listener pay attention. I was not sure where it was going or what it was trying to say (if anything), but it was pleasant to the ear.
Next, Nicola Benedetti appeared on the stage in a pale dress that was wrapping her sculptural figure so tightly I was afraid it would break apart as soon as she would take a deep breath, let alone play Tchaikovsky's demanding composition. But she and the dress managed all right, even if her energy-filled playing did not always convey the many subtleties of the magnificent score. In fact, she tore through it with such ferociousness that it actually made me wonder if she had some issues to settle with her violin... or Tchaikovsky. Even though she did slow down for the island of melancholy that is the Canzonetta, her touch was by no means light enough to make this precious little jewel fully shine. Too much agitation and too little finesse made her performance noticeable mostly for its loud flamboyance, and while the razzle-dazzle was impressive in its sheer virtuosity, all the delicate nuances that make this intrinsically lyrical concerto so special were sorely missing. Although it is hard for me to believe they had never heard it played better before, the audience gobbled it all up and rewarded her with long, rapturous applause.
After catching our breath during intermission, it was time for Dvorak's Symphony No 7. I really can't say that I would go out of my way for Dvorak in general (his cello concerto and his symphony No 9 being the exceptions. Duh!), but when I get a chance to hear one of his works, I often find myself surprised at how much I do enjoy them. This symphony did the trick again, and I happily got caught up in its attractive, dark melodies. Quite a fitting good-bye to Prague before moving on to Berlin for the final leg of my tour.

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