We all got to experience a bit more of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra’s talents than we’d perhaps expected at their glowingly assured Sunday afternoon concert.
Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****
Following doctors’ advice, 83-year-old chief conductor Libor Pešek was on the podium only after the interval, leaving the concert’s first half in the hands of principal guest conductor Heiko Mathias Förster. And then there was mention of the orchestra’s founder and ‘Chief Trumpeter’ Jan Hasenöhrl – who didn’t seem to fit as soloist into any of the music being played.
Förster, however, showed off a crisp, brisk technique in the concert’s opener, Smetana’s From Bohemia’s Fields and Groves from Má vlast, evoking an almost Sibelian grandeur and spaciousness at times – it was an impeccably finessed account, drawing wonderfully burnished, silky playing from the orchestra, but it lacked a bit of drama all the same.
And that same coolness made for an odd contrast with soloist Natalie Clein’s blisteringly raw vision of the Shostakovich First Cello Concerto, by turns muscular, grotesque and wildly abandoned, but accompanied rather disconcertingly by Förster’s precise, focused gestures.
It was a world away from Pešek’s big, beatless arm-sweeps in Dvořák’s New World Symphony – doubtless a nightmare to follow, but drawing a performance of thrilling conviction and passion from the Czech players. And that mysterious trumpeter? Hasenöhrl suddenly appeared as soloist in the orchestra’s supposedly surprise tango encore – a little calculated, maybe, but delivered with sultry sophistication.