The Czech Philharmonic at Colston Hall

Rebecca Franks reports on the Czech Philharmonic's performance at Bristol's Colston Hall

The Czech Philharmonic at Colston Hall
The Czech Philharmonic perform at Colston Hall in Bristol

The Czech Philharmonic's tour arrived in Bristol last Wednesday, showing the packed Colston Hall just what a distinctive orchestra it is under the baton of Jiri Belohlavek. Its rich yet bright sound world, with luxurious strings, vibrant woodwind and fearless brass, is twinned with playing of full-hearted musicality and sensitivity. Ideal qualities for the two Dvorak items on the programme: two Slavonic Dances to open with, played with precision and passion, and the Seventh Symphony to conclude.

The Brahmsian Seventh starts in the shadows, with portentous violas and cellos, and these dark hues colour the whole work. Belohlavek's approach was both detailed and large-scale; incisive rhythms and rhetorical gesture gave the symphony a rare grandeur. Highlights included the piquant wind-choir opening of the Poco Adagio, the delicious lilt of the Scherzo that was offset by crisp strings, and a Finale in which the melodies were really allowed to blossom.

Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending comprised the rest of the programme, with the Czech Philharmonic's young concertmaster Josef Spacek taking the solo parts. He's a performer that draws you in rather than an extrovert – and there were moments where he seemed to forget he was in the solo spotlight rather than the leader's chair – but his transparent tone and pure intonation was a winning combination. His Mendelssohn was thoughtful but not short on virtuosity, particularly in the nimble dance of the finale; and if his refinement suggests a Classical approach, it was in balance with the Romantic aspects of the piece.

The Vaughan Williams might seem to sit oddly in this central-European programme, but it provided a moment of hazy cool and atmosphere. Spacek captured the music's pastoral feel, leading the audience into the skies with his silvery violin trail. Luminous strings, carefully-shaped wind lines provided the backdrop, with the horn solos wonderfully eloquent and telling.

It was back to Smetana, the Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride, for the encore, a showpiece for an orchestra that knows the music of its home country like no other playing today.

Rebecca Franks

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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