Mozart, Symphony No. 38 / Voříšek, Symphony in D, Prague Philharmonia, J. Bělohlávek
Martinů, Violin Concerto, I. Faust, Prague Philharmonia, J. Bělohlávek
The Prague Philharmonia was formed in the image of the 18th-century court orchestra, a mid-sized ensemble, and that era's music -- balanced, diverting, clear -- is their specialty. This came across in the final piece on the program, the Symphony in D Major, op. 24, by Jan Václav Voříšek (1791-1825), which received the most unified, crisp, and pleasing performance of the evening. Voříšek was born in the year that Mozart died, and his life was cut short at around the same length as his Viennese idol. Having worked primarily as imperial court organist, he wrote a pile of liturgical choral and organ music, most of it forgotten. This symphony was his first foray into orchestral music, completed only a few years before the composer died. Bělohlávek and the Prague Philharmonia recorded it a couple years ago, and while it may not be an immortal work, it is worthwhile listening.
Where the violin section had occasionally sounded at odds with one another in the other selections, the intonation slightly askew, in the copious amounts of figuration in this piece they were taut and lean. The outer movements of this symphony sound the most like Haydn and Beethoven, formally not that adventurous, the recapitulation of the first movement sneaking up on the listener, and the fourth brimming ebulliently with wit. The second movement, marked Andante, had the feel of a Beethoven funeral-march slow movement, with an elegiac middle section, followed by a well-manicured but urgent third movement.
Robert Battey, Prague Philharmonia leaves big impression (Washington Post, March 22)
Leoš Janáček's Suite for Strings, an early work completed in 1877, was lovingly played, especially the ardent, pining second movement, only violins and violas, and the pleasant country walk of the third. The fifth movement featured a fervent cello solo, in dialogue with the violin section, and a particularly cohesive sixth movement rounded out a well-crafted performance. Two encores, after the Voříšek, showed off the best qualities of the orchestra: a sparkling overture from Rossini's La Scala di Seta, with a workout for the talented principal oboist, and the third movement from Antonín Dvořák's Serenade for Strings.
The focus on Prague continues this week at the Kennedy Center with the final festival concerts from the National Symphony Orchestra: Dvořák's setting of the Stabat mater sequence (March 22 and 24 -- thoughts on that tomorrow) and some more lighter orchestral fare by Dvořák and Janáček (March 23), with pianist Lukáš Vondrácek.