Classical review: Czech Philharmonic, Edinburgh

Josef Spacek shone with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Josef Spacek shone with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
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WHEN a culture is in your blood, the ease with which it flows from your fingertips is inevitably increased. Never was this more true than when the Czech Philharmonic took to the Usher Hall stage this week.

Czech Philharmonic - Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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Prague-born conductor, Jiri Belohlavek stood before an orchestra of largely Czech nationals, for whom the works of Smetana and Dvorák are like mother’s milk. No surprise, then, that Belohlavek had no need of sheet music (later brought on for the Mendelssohn and Vaughan Williams) and the musicians delivered the works from their homeland with finessed power and gusto.

Three pieces from Smetana’s Bartered Bride romped along, aided visually by the unusual positioning of eight double basses – centre stage, high above the percussion, almost dancing their way through the piece.

Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7 was equally imbued with authenticity. When writing it in 1885, Dvorák proclaimed he wanted it to “shake the world” – and it certainly moved the Usher Hall. But the real treat of this afternoon concert came in the form of young violist Josef Špacek. Czech-born, New York-trained, the 28-year-old climbed gently inside both works he performed, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, and made himself at home.

If there’s a quibble, it is in the orchestra’s treatment of Vaughan Williams’ perennially popular work. The quiet subtlety was well handled, but the passionate drama underplayed, almost as if this quintessentially British work felt like somebody else’s china in their hands.

Seen on 19.04.15