Prom 15, 2009
Bedrich Smetana: The Bartered Bride overture
There was a time when this piece was the constant fare of concerts and recordings but it has gone from the hall and studio largely and so it was a welcome chance to hear it in the flesh last night.
There are so many recordings that its hard perhaps to find ways of doing it differently – Bělohlávek adopted Route One to interpretative authority – he set a ferociously quick tempo. Strings were sawing away for all their worth through Smetana’s fugal entries. – it’s a high risk endeavour but that was a feature of much of the concert. That said it was very effective and a cracking way to start the programme – warhorse or not.
Bela Bartok: Dance Suite (1923)
For the record Bělohlávek doesn’t lack aplomb under pressure and this piece brought out the best in both orchestra and conductor in a technical and emotional tour de force. The orchestra respond very well to their chief conductor – attentive to the urgent baton movements and ad hoc balancing. He swerves and dives with the music beneath his mop of silver hair but never unswerving in his clear beat. The technical delivery was of the highest order numerous examples of very beautiful delivery in the bustle of this piece - one could highlight individual woodwind players, like Alison Teale on Cor Anglais, who combine a great playing with an individual touch which is a feature of the great wind sections from Beecham's RPO to Karajan's teams at the Philharmonia & BPO.
Bělohlávek tamed the vicious complexity with dance rhythms elucidated to reveal beauty and drama. It was an unexpected highlight.
Bohuslav Martinů : Concerto for Two Pianos
The fast movement had all the usual momentum of a Martinu first movement - rather like surfing a wave that never breaks, it is best appreciated as a journey itself - not just a build-up to some froth at the end. I've never been especially attracted to the slow movements of Martinu's symphonies and so its not a surprise that the slow movement - though it had exquisite moments - didn't thrill me hugely. The last movement was a whirl of pianistic colour and sweep, with a characteristic piling on of harmonic and textural drama that the composer brings to so many of his works. It got huge applause and deservedly so - a rare gem.
All in all this was a belter and a happy sign both conductor and orchestra can bring home the goods in this type of testing repertoire.