Prague Symphony Orchestra
November 13 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Czech musicians celebrate music from their homeland with plenty of local colour
You wait for years for a piece by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu to be played in Nottingham and two turn up in less than a week. An opera on Saturday and on Wednesday his Cello Concerto No 1.
Martinu was hugely prolific, producing over 400 works, and his life was unsettled (he changed countries 11 times). His restlessness as well as his tendency to pick up musical styles wherever he went can be seen in this concerto.
Cellist Laura Van der Heijden (BBC Young Musician Winner 2012) and the Prague Symphony Orchestra, under their conductor Pietari Inkinen, made an eloquent case for it and managed the sometimes startling shifts of style and mood with aplomb. It starts cheerfully in a big-open-spaces epic style, flirts with jazz and Czech folk-dance before settling down in the slow movement, its emotional core. Here Laura made the cello sing of beauty and a sense of peace – before she and the orchestra plunged into the finale’s frenetic energy.
The rest of the programme was Czech too. Smetana’s Overture and three Dances from his opera The Bartered Bride opened the concert with lots of fizzing energy and rhythmic sparkle. And it ended with Dvorak’s evergreen Symphony No 9 ‘From the New World’ which the Prague musicians must have had in their veins since birth.
The symphony is full of American colour: Indian dances, scenes from Hiawatha, spirituals and much more. But there is also a lot of nostalgia for the Bohemia which Dvorak had left behind him when he sailed across the Atlantic. Pietari Inkinen let the great tunes breathe, kept textures transparent and, whilst losing none of the music’s ability to stir the blood, revealed plenty of unexpected details and orchestral colours. And a Dvorak Slavonic Dance did very nicely as encore.
Prague Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pietari Inkinen with Laura Van der Heijden (cello)