The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Juanjo Mena, performed a selection of three pieces which comprised of varied styles. The first was a symphonic poem, Bed0rich Smetana’s Vltava from Má vlast, followed by Belá Bartók’s Violin Concerto No.2 and concluding with Antonín Dvorák’s Symphony No.9 in E minor.
Bedrich Smetana’s Má vlast was based on aspects of Czech history, legends and landscape. In the Vltava, the music traces the river Vltava from its source to the point where is joins the Elbe. The performance by the Orchestra was masterful, taking the audience on a journey along the river; the gentle opening of flutes and clarinets through to the change from minor to major, illustrating the river broadening as it enters Prague, was beautifully performed, the story beneath the music evident to anyone listening; the experience was completely immersive. This is in part due to the strongly visual element of the performance which worked in tandem with the music. The movement of the violinists was particularly eye-catching, the perfectly synchronised flow of the bows was like watching a dance which perfectly reflected the theme of the flowing water and the performance provided an amazing start to the evening.
“What is clear within the piece is the building tension which is heard, the sweetness and joy which are present in the first movement giving way to a rising urgency”
The second piece, Bartók’s Violin Concerto No.2, is comprised of three movements made up of variations. The concerto was extremely different to the immersive story telling of the Vltava, with frequent changes in mood and tempo, though there was an overarching sense of momentum throughout the sequence. The piece was extremely complex for someone unfamiliar with classical music, however, it brought a change in focus from the Vltava, with the presence of the soloist Augustin Hadelich, a violinist with an incredible presence on stage. His performance was captivating. Despite the sometimes seemingly chaotic piece, Hadelich demonstrated amazing skill, particularly when playing passages which involve double-edged stopping, playing two strings at the same time, which could sound almost as though two violinists were playing.
Hadelich’s encore, the Andante movement from Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 2, provided a dramatic contrast to the previous piece. The use of a single instrument following the grandeur of Bartók’s concerto performed by the orchestra was extremely poignant and provided a perfect ending of the first half of the evening.
The third and final piece, Antonín Dvorák’s Symphony No.9 in E minor, saw a return to a story-telling style, with emotion developing throughout the piece. The theme of the symphony is surrounded by uncertainty, the presumption being that it reflects Dvorák’s experience of America due to the sub-title ‘From the New World’, however he refused to allow himself to be pinned down to anything precise. What is clear within the piece is the building tension which is heard, the sweetness and joy which are present in the first movement giving way to a rising urgency which culminates in the fourth movement. Dvorák’s symphony smoothly builds to an incredible, dramatic end, the perfect finish to the piece and the evening.
The audience’s response at the end of the night, with an incredibly long and enthusiastic round of applause perfectly demonstrated what an incredible performance was achieved by all. Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.