Czech Musicians Do Dvořák Proud in Cardiff

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Beethoven, Dvořák: Igor Tchetuev (piano), Prague Symphony Orchestra, Heiko Mathias Förster (conductor). St. David’s Hall, Cardiff. 8.11.2012 (PCG)

Mozart: Don Giovanni: Overture
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 4 in G major
Dvořák:  Symphony No 8 in G major

I suspect that the Prague Symphony Orchestra could play Dvořák in their sleep, but there was nothing at all somnolent about their wide-awake performance of his Eighth Symphony, delivered with plenty of dramatic fire. The Czech tone of the woodwind in the second movement almost made the music sound like an anticipation of early Sibelius, despite a very Gallic-sounding French horn; and the balance between brass, strings and wind was near-perfect apart from a slight tendency for the strings in the first movement to be overwhelmed at climaxes. There was a naturally infectious spring to the third movement, with the suspicion of an almost Viennese lilt, as if Johann Strauss had decided to write a Slavonic Dance. The timpanist was clearly enjoying himself in the Bohemian rhythms. Even in the finale, where the return of the slow material from the opening can sometimes lead to a loss of tension and a feeling that Dvořák is simply complying with the expectations of symphonic form, the lift and poise of the playing brought the music to life. This was very far from being a performance on auto-pilot, with lots of character and sympathy evident throughout. Heiko Mathias Förster clearly enjoyed himself as much as the orchestra.

At the beginning of the concert, the players had given us a decidedly ill-balanced performance of the Don Giovanni overture (with a reduced body of strings), with the brass dominating the violins and the woodwind sometimes obscured behind both. Perhaps the players were still getting used to the acoustic of an unfamiliar hall. However the balance in the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto, which followed, was much better, with a fuller string sound. The young Igor Tchetuev was simply excellent, giving the music plenty of romantic largamente, and carefully distinguishing the essential notes from the merely ornamental ones. In some performances one can get the uncomfortable feeling of a pianist practising his scales while the orchestra gets on with the serious business of playing a concerto; but Tchetuev completely avoided any such suspicion, and the beautifully shaded scalic passages bubbled up like a welling spring. He clearly sympathised with Liszt’s ‘programme’ for the second movement, with Orpheus taming the wild beasts; and his playing of the cadenza in the finale conjured up the image of the irascible Beethoven with clod-hopping perfection. He also gave us an encore in the shape of Liadov’s Musical snuff-box, full of light fantasy with a deliciously sly touch at the end as the clockwork ran down. This is a pianist whose future performances one will anticipate with pleasure.

A disappointingly small audience cheered the orchestra and soloist to the rafters, with justice.

Paul Corfield Godfrey