ConcertLive Music/GigMusicNorth East & YorkshireReview

BBC Philharmonic: Smetana, Bartók & Dvořák – Leeds Town Hall

Music: Smetana, Bartok, Dvorak

Conductor: Juanjo Mena

Violin soloist: Augustin Hadelich

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

In this all-Eastern European programme, we commence with the second of Czech composer Smetana’s symphonic poems from Ma Vlast, familiar in its heroic and lyrical celebration of his homeland and in particular, the river Vltava. It is a perfect piece to demonstrate the strength of the orchestra’s strings under the dexterous command of conductor Juanjo Mena. The section depicts ebbs and flows in beautiful harmonies, as fluid and incandescent as the river it reflects. As the tempo accelerates, so does the depth of emotion, with a whirling dervish of a finale, performed with both passion and restraint.

Bartok’s Violin Concerto No 2 makes the perfect showpiece for young virtuoso violinist Augustin Hadelich. In the luscious first movement, he chases each note with a fanatical verve and veracity leading the orchestra with a merry song and dance. The folk influence on the composer is never clearer right up to the raucous climax. The andante tranquillo leaves more time for reflection on Hadelich’s golden gifts in Bartok’s more tender moments. It is an utterly majestic movement benefiting from the level of the soloist’s skill and sincerity blended with the orchestra’s perfect pitch and playfulness. The final movement develops the theme further, allowing more of Hadelich’s sprightly and assured performance against an accompaniment to die for.

Back to the more familiar with Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 in E Minor, Op 95 (From the New World) we see the first movement set out the famous theme which moves from sweet and gentle to robust and dynamic. This is followed by a rustic theme (used by the Hovis commercial), here representing the traditional in theface of American ‘new’ ways. Dvorak is keen to dispute that this is not American music, despite his residency there. The third section sees some keen and rapid string work that the BBC Philharmonic bounces around the Leeds Town Hall’s great acoustics with great skill and purpose. Finally, in the climactic fourth, we are brought almost to a march (or at least, a disciplined walk). It is a delightful and delicious denouement of a concert that captures so much of Eastern European genius.

Performed as part of Leeds International Concert Season | Image: Contributed

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