United Kingdom Dvořák, Mozart, Beethoven: Jonathan Biss (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Jakub Hrůša (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 3.5.2012 (SRT)
Dvořák: Czech Suite
Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
Jakub Hrůša is a young conductor whose star is definitely on the rise, not unlike the SCO’s principal conductor, Robin Ticciati. I first came across him two years ago when he conducted the RSNO and it’s heartening to say that he was just as impressive second time around. Hrůša has a wonderful sense of line in his conducting, and there is a palpable sense of openness to the way he communicates with both the orchestra and audience. Both these qualities were on ample display in his conducting of Dvořák’s lovely Czech Suite, a cross between a symphony and a serenade. Hrůša appeared almost to massage the sound out of the orchestra, drawing a seemingly endless line of music from the effortlessly sunny first movement and conjuring a particularly Dvořákian sheen from the strings. He fully inhabited the folk-tune atmosphere of the dance movements but stopped off for some lovely scene-painting in the Romantic slow movement. The orchestra’s playing was muscular and Romantic with full bodied string tone and Bohemian-sounding winds, making me wonder why they don’t play Dvořák more often.
In contrast to the sun-flecked brightness of Dvořák, Hrůša’s reading of Mozart’s great D minor concerto played up the dramatic, almost violent side of the work, nowhere more so than in the orchestral tutti at the start of the Rondo. So dark was the atmosphere that, for once, the switch into the major key in the coda sounded like a genuine surprise. Jonathan Biss’s muscular style of pianism suited this very well, even if sometimes the sweeter elements were underplayed, most notably in the outer sections of the Romanza, which sounded a little pale and unconvincing next to the Sturm und Drang of the central section. Still, Biss’s pianistic technique remains a wonder to witness, and he could revel in the lyricism when he wanted to. I especially loved the way he took the piano’s opening phrase in the work and sweetened it into a lovely major-key variant at the beginning of the development. He and Hrůša communicated most impressively, giving a sense of a well worked-out collaboration.
The collaboration between conductor and orchestra was even more striking in Beethoven’s Second Symphony, where every phrase was moulded lovingly with a rich sense of musical purpose. The string tone for the Larghetto had the mellowness of mahogany and, while I could have done with a little more crackle to the opening Allegro, the wait paid off with a razor-sharp performance of the finale, taken at a daringly fast tempo and providing a fitting sense of culmination for the symphony. The SCO played with quicksilver precision, confirming themselves as one of this country’s best teams for Beethoven, something they will be called upon to confirm again next week when they finish the season with his Ninth Symphony.