EIF 2014: Czech Philharmonic 02, Usher Hall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
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Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Smetana, String Quartet No 1 in E minor (orch Szell); Dvořák, Five Biblical Songs Op 99; Janáček, Sinfonietta.
Jiří Bĕlohlávek (conductor), Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano).
Running time

With the double basses raised and along the back of the orchestra, and with twelve violas at the front to the right, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1896, was well set for an evening of Czech music.

When Smetana's String Quartet No 1 in E minor first appeared it was considered too difficult to play but, bit by bit, played it was. However it was George Szell's highly praised orchestration of 1949 we heard. The four movements were an attempt by Smetana to depict the course of his life and he gave it the sub-title of From My Life. The four movements are noticeably different - the first romantic, the second on youth and the polka, the third is slower and emotional. But well into the fourth and quite suddenly the piccolo is playing. Smetana had become deaf before composing the work - and the piccolo was telling us this is all he heard. But life goes on, the music reads, as the work comes to an end.

Bernarda Fink's singing of Antonin Dvořák's Biblical Songs in Czech was the evening's highlight for me. A very fine voice which was exceptionally well heard. We were expecting (from the programme) to hear five of the ten Psalms and started our applause - only to be treated with the remaining five. Both sets had been first performed by the Czech Philharmonic in 1896 and in 1914. A curious error in the programme notes referred to Psalm 151.

Leoš Janáček's Sinfonietta at one time was known as his Military Sinfonietta because of the extraordinary opening fanfare. An additional eleven brass players had joined the Orchestra, high up either side of the organ console. They were in full blast again in the final movement. Janáček is said to have be impressed by a military band of a Czechoslovak army regiment.

Two well prepared encores added fifteen minutes to the programme - a triumph for one of Europe's mighty orchestras under the baton of highly regarded Jiří Bĕlohlávek.

Concert: Saturday 23rd August 2014 at 8pm