An incredible concert! Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen is an opera I've certainly heard of, but with which I'm not the least familiar. Reading the program, it sounds as if it borders on Disney and the suite culled from it is replete with folk rhythms and animal noises - the high winds and violins were blatting their birdsongs throughout. Still, it was a most entertaining appetizer. The interesting combining of staccato violins with legato cellos and violas is something that caught and delighted my ears. Jakub Hrůša is a dynamic and demonstrative young Czech conductor who coaxed every last of evocation and sweep in the DSO who were making their premiere in the work.
I've seen pianist Jonathan Biss perform previously with the DSO via webcast and was most impressed, but this last-minute substitute performance of what's arguably Beethoven's deepest piano concerto, No. 4 in G major, was something that nearly brought tears to these stoic eyes. I've no idea how much rehearsal time was allotted; or if soloist, conductor and/or orchestra have a history performing together in this work; but this performance brought a rousing and spontaneous standing ovation catalyzing no less than three returning bows! I was sixth row center and among those leading the legion of bravos.
Following intermission, the performance I came for. Persuant to Andrew's proclaiming of the difficulty in effectively bringing off the Sibelius Symphony No. 3, Hrůša and the DSO took no shortcuts in putting forth everything the work has to offer, but shortcomings there were. In the first movement, an over-balancing of the strings vis-ŕ-vis the winds often clouded the melody. Hrůša could be seen quelling certain orchestral sections and prodding others in seeking the right balance. There were also more stop-start instances than I ever recall hearing, resulting in a somewhat disconcerting and spell-breaking consequence. I found the lower strings to be most impressive and the tympani were more prominent than I've ever heard in any recording - not necessarily a bad touch, but certainly ear-catching to these no-longer-virgin ears. The "amen" was protracted and pronounced. In all, a first movement that could use some seasoning, but didn't disappoint. I've certainly heard scrappier playing on record from Barbirolli's Hallé Orchestra - and certain critics would deem it to be a virtue!
For fans of a slow Andantino second movement, and I know they dominate this forum, this one fit the bill. Despite a few instances of seemingly blatant stop-start, it was movingly performed (How could it not?). No Bernsteinian straightaway directness or Maazelian doo-wop here; Hrůša probed and prodded for the utmost in profound expression. The winds and strings rendered the plaintive melody beautifully. I'd be curious of the timing, and may just clock it during Saturday night's webcast, but I feel confidant in saying this Andantino well surpassed the ten minute "viability" threshhold imposed by the diehard Sibelians on this forum.
The third and final movement was an exercise in dynamically varied orchestral derring-do. There were a few lapses in ensemble which were mitigated by refreshing spontaneity. Balances were more true and pleasing. The cumulative build-up to the all-important crescendo-decrescendo was both thrilling (no caesura here!), hair-raising, and ultimately loud - - Hrůša left his feet by about a foot! The brass blared proudly down the stretch along a taut, yet slightly fraying rope of ostinato strings. Upon completion, the lead violist faced the audience and grinned as if to say "Phew!" I might have been the lone "Bravo!", but the performance still garnered a hesitant standing ovation, certainly unlike that following the Beethoven, but the young maestro had won us over.
I do hope others on the forum have the chance to see the free live webcast and share their thoughts...despite the ungodly late hour in Europe.