Friday, 20 October 2017

Czech Philharmonic Ochestra - Hrůša Shostakovich Mahler 4

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra's 122nd season opened with Shostakovich and Mahler, conducted by Jakub Hrůša.  Interesting background to this concert, given the recent announcement of Semyon Bychkov as Chief Conductor.  Memories are still fresh of last year's opening concert where Jiří Bělohlávek conducted a golden, autumnal Mahler Das Lied von der Erde  (read more here)  uniting the Czech Phil's characteristic style with  Mahler, who was born in Bohemia, but was not a Bohemian composer.  Hrůša conducted the Czech Phil's memorial to  Bělohlávek in June. With Bychkov, the orchestra's management may be seeking a new style  that will appeal to record companies and foreign audiences, and might make good business sense, but Hrůša represents the Czech Phil's unique heritage.

An elegaic quality, then, for Shostakovich's Violin Concerto no  1 in A minor op 77. Leonidas Kavakos created the haunting violin line in the Nocturne so it suggested intense sadness, surrounded as it is with bassoons, low winds and strings.  It's not festive, but there was something firmly resolute in the way the violin line developed, illuminated at the end by harps.  The scherzo is a battle of wits between the violin and various instrumental groups in the orchestra, underpinned  by fast-flowing figures: energy defying repression, angular shapes growing fiercer til they cut off suddenly.  The dark resonance the Czech Phil does so well came to the fore in the Passacaglia, the tuba leading as if in a funeral procession. As the orchestral sounds grew muffled, the violin continued, alone . Kavakos played with firm assertiveness, not afraid to stress the harsher, angular moments in the bowing.which give this section such personality. Thus the burlesque took on demonic character.  Hrůša whipped the orchestra into wild, frenzied dance, so Kavakos’s playing seemed to fly free. Freund Hein, the fiddler of Fate !  An excellent introduction to Mahler's Symphony no 4 where the violin serves a similar function.  Of course Shostakovich was influenced by Mahler but it's delimiting. I wish people would stop using lazy clichés instead of listening and thinking.  There is a strong flavour to this piece which draws on Russian traditions which don't connect to Mahler at all.

A sprightly opening to Mahler Symphony no 4, which emphasized its fresh, vernal nature.  The instruction "ohne Hast" doesn't mean slow but rather "without rush".in order that we might relish  the joys of the present, which inevitably cannot last.  The sleighbells and sprightly figures suggested youthful energy.  Since we know what is to come, this enhances meaning. We can hear the children in the final movement as they once were, making their loss all the more poignant. Hrůša defined the dance-like figures, making connections to the Ländler to come.  The children might even be dancing to a Dudelsackpfeiffer: innocence, not sophistication, is of the essence.   The horns defined "winds" of change and a change of mood but the third movement, marked Ruhevolll,  is the real transition, a purgatory in which the issues of death are resolved into a more perfect "heavenly life".Thus the calm but determined pace and the repeated "waves" of sound.  Horns and winds here were impressive, coloured in Dvořák hues.  Maybe I've been listening to too many Stabat Maters lately, but the connections are perfectly relevant and valid in the context of Mahler's Fourth.   An excellent  climax, timpani pounding, horns blazing, the strings shining, the harps adding heavenly light, the sustained woodwind lines calling out into space.     

In Marta Reichelova, the Czech Philharmonic have a gem of a soloist.  She has a very distinctive voice, balancing sweetness with the enthusiastic boyishness Mahler said he wanted in the part. She's still very young, so retains a natural innocence with just a hint of vulnerability that's very endearing.  She cares about the words she sings.  The child in the song may be dead but he or she hasn't lost its love of the simple pleasures of life.  Better Reichelova's genuine child-like charm than blandness, any day !

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