Czech Conductor’s Return Offers Stylistic Sympathy

United StatesUnited States  Smetana, Beethoven, and Dvořák: Alina Ibragimova (violin), Seattle Symphony, Jakub Hrůša (conductor), Benaroya Hall, Seattle, 30.5.2013 (BJ)

Smetana: Wallenstein’s Camp
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major
Dvořák: Symphony No. 6 in D major

Jakub Hrůša’s return engagement emphatically confirmed the positive impression this gifted young maestro made on his debut appearance with the Seattle Symphony two years ago. Too much can be placed on the benefits of ethnic connections, but his interpretations of music by the two Czech (or Bohemian) composers on the program breathed an air of confident stylistic sympathy.

It was the second half of the program, devoted to my favorite among all the Dvořák symphonies, that made the strongest impact. This was a superbly vibrant, warm, and idiomatic performance. The first movement went with such a splendid swing, and the gorgeous second subject was played with so perfect a blend of horn and cello tone, as to make the conductor’s omission of the exposition repeat all the more regrettable. After a beautifully shaped reading of the Adagio, a dashing account of the Furiant scherzo featured fine work from the viola section (coming close to rivaling the wonderful woody sound that section makes in Karel Šejna’s classic recording), and Judy Kriewall’s piccolo solo in the trio was admirably delicate and accurately tuned. Then, in the concluding Allegro con spirito, perhaps the greatest finale Dvořák ever wrote, Hrůša’s economical technique helped to clarify the movement’s cogent thematic structure, which can be obscured by less than lucid textures.

If the relatively unfamiliar Smetana tone-poem that opened the evening offered no such subtleties, the fault was not Hrůša’s—a few quiet moments aside, it’s an essentially rumbustious piece, and it was accorded a suitably rumbustious work-out. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, however, is a quite different matter, and here I’m afraid the score’s manifold subtleties went for little under the hands of the soloist.

Far the most successful of the three movements was the central Larghetto, where the unusually fluent pulse set by Hrůša encouraged Alina Ibragimova to shape her line lyrically enough. But the outer movements were spoiled by her constant almost grotesque recourse to dynamic swells and dips, so that it seemed as if the music’s tail was wagging the dog. Her tone lacked solidity, and the aggressiveness of her bowing seemed aimed at proving that the violin is a percussion instrument. This was particularly the case in the first-movement cadenza, where she chose to play the one Beethoven wrote for his piano arrangement of the concerto, in Wolfgang Schneiderhan’s back-arrangement for violin, with some alterations of her own. The choice was welcome in itself, for this timpani-supported cadenza is well worth an occasional airing—but not if the frequent multi-stopped chords are to be hacked at in the way they were on this occasion.


Bernard Jacobson