Conductor: Jakub Hrusa
Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104 - Daniel Müller-Schott
Schubert: Symphony No 8 in B Minor, D. 759, "Unfinished"
Janacek: Taras Bulba
Now that the visiting family members are gone, nothing symbolizes a return to regular life like a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. When the program includes Dvorak's superb cello concerto and Schubert's compelling Unfinished as well as a work by Janacek, it is a no brainer. Of course, having Dvorak's most famous composition performed by young but much talked-about German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott was an extra incentive, a young Czech conductor taking charge of the works of two major Czech composers wrapped up the compelling package nicely.
The life of a live performance aficionada may be full of twists and turns, but it is also packed with grating frustrations. As I was taking my seat in the concert hall, I found myself surrounded by the trio from hell: the woman to my right was abominably reeking of cigarette smoke (and had the skin to go with it), the woman to my left had a nervous habit that made her head constantly bob (I was exhausted by just sitting next to her) and the one behind had a nasty coughing fit as the soloist had just started to play, fit of course followed by the dreaded unwrapping of a cough drop. I was really back!
In the middle of all these olfactory, physical and auditive disturbances, I still managed to connect with Dvorak's bittersweet concerto. Unequivocally putting the cello in the foreground, the Czech composer wrote some dazzlingly melodic lines for the instrument while remaining careful to keep it fully integrated in the whole piece. This classic among classics develops to be a dramatically lyrical statement featuring a delicately ethereal second movement about the imminent death of his sister-in-law, who had been the big love of his life, and deep nostalgia toward his homeland. This afternoon it received a strongly committed treatment by Daniel Müller-Schott and unfolded with true symphonic grandeur despite its seemingly chamber-like setting.
After Dvorak's passionate personal score, Schubert's Unfinished was all deep darkness, long-winded melodies, turbulent passages and quiet poignancy. Indisputably the most celebrated truncated work of classical music, its two movements are a bottomless wealth of textural richness and emotional expressiveness. Conductor and orchestra took a subtle, unhurried approach to it, and as a result it seemed to last longer than expected, but who am I to complain?
Back in the Czech Republic, Janacek wrapped up the program with a composition that was about a novella by Gogol relating the rather grim life of the 16th century ruthless Cossack military leader Taras Bulba. Trying hard to emphasize the warrior's love for his country and, err, family issues (He killed one of his sons while the other met a dreadful end courtesy of the Poles), it includes breathless, drastic rhythmical changes and makes full use of the whole orchestra. There were a few opportunities for first violin Nurit Bar-Josef to shine, which she did with her usual talent.