Music review: The Czech National Symphony Orchestra

PERHAPS it was tour fatigue or the absence of their regular conductor, Petr Altrichter, but the players in the Czech National Symphony Orchestra looked as if they were sleepwalking through this perfunctory performance at the Usher Hall. Even replacement conductor Ben Palmer seemed unable to coax any dynamism from the players. Only the principal horn, with his superb musicianship and enthusiasm, seemed to be engaged. His warm tone and beautiful phrasing stood out, eclipsing the efforts of everyone else on the stage.
Russian pianist Pavel KolesnikovRussian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov
Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov

The opening allegro of Schubert’s Symphony No 8 (Unfinished) was a chance for the string section to shine. But while the cellos and basses growled their way through the melancholic theme, the rustling violins sounded thin.

There was barely any meaningful interaction between the orchestra and soloist Pavel Kolesnikov in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. After his simple announcement of the tune, Kolesnikov got on with demonstrating his effortless technique, ignoring some rather rough entries from the orchestra. While Kolesnikov added plenty of sparkle, especially in the cadenzas, he didn’t seem to have the emotional empathy with Beethoven that he has with Chopin. He gave an elegant reading of Valse in A flat major Op 69 No. 1 for an encore.

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Dvořák’s Symphony No.7 is an ambitious work but there was no unfurling of its detailed textures or a sense of the work’s overall architecture here. The orchestra seemed to pull themselves together towards the end of the symphony, however, to deliver a rousing encore of Smetana’s folk-dance Skočná to finish.


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