Review: Janáček’s The Danube by BBC National Orchestra Wales

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BBC National Orchestra of Wales – Janáček’s The Danube
Hoddinott Hall, Wales Millennium Centre
Friday 3rd November 2017

After the brilliant playing of Satie’s ballet in P.A.R.A.D.E. it’s a warm welcome back to BBC NOWs home: Hoddinott Hall based in the Millennium Centre. Instead of French and Russian repertoire, this afternoon concert had a focus on rivers and water by mostly Czech composers.

To begin was Vltava, by Smetana. Taken from Ma Vlást (My Country), a multi-movement tribute to his homeland of Czechoslovakia. Vltava is one of its rivers and this extract is his most famous and cherished work. With a main melody that has a certain eloquence and film score-like feel, it burrows into your head and refuses to leave. The orchestra also has lovely moments with a country wedding and rapids along the way, then arriving into Prague in the grandest of musical ways. It’s a merry piece which rightly has become a pärt of the canon, most recently heard in Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life. A treat as always.

From one hit to another, Song to the Moon by Dvořák is the real deal. Taken from his opera Rusalka, about the water nymph who lives in the Vltava, it is loosely based on The Little Mermaid and other sources. Here, Rusalka turns up to the moon and declares her love will arrive. Sung by Fatma Said, her singing had a real grace and suited the aria splendidly. Would she consider doing the whole opera? We hope so.

Said then presented four of Richard Strauss songs. These deeply Germanic songs have an intense romantic quality to them and no more so than in Morgen! which drips with so much aching admiration, it is almost unbearable. Said is also wonderful in her German here and the sweeping declarations of love and passion are what compelled us to pay attention to her. She should also consider more contemporary roles as well.

After the great success of From the House of the Dead, I was keen to listen to more of Janáček. Here, the Danube is the music, though not the famous waltz number. Unfinished at his death, this work has been completed and features the addition of a soprano in the orchestra and four percussionists on mass playing timpani. It is not his best work, though it does maintain that spiky, rustling quality he is hallmarked for.

The folk songs from Moravia are superimposed with his striking modern orchestration and harmonic language. Llio Evans sang the fleeting solo in the third movement with precision and had to vocalise the whole time. This brief stint in this part did not give us enough time with Evans and we would like to see her in more operas and concerts.

Last but not Liszt (I am so funny) was his Hungaria. As a tribute to his nation who lost natives in the 1848 uprisings seen all over Europe, Liszt was moved to create this tone poem. Much less interesting than his frantic piano scores, this is a piece which supposedly made its first audience cry in Pest. The piece has bite, but lacks in consistency, being manic marches, pretty dances and little else.

This rivery concert proved how Czech composers are greatly influenced by their rivers, the lifeblood of their landlocked country.

I await with excitement for the next concert with conductor Xian Zhang.

Rating: ****

BBC NOW continue with a concert of Verdi and Respighi at St David’s Hall on 10th November 2017.

Watch Weeping Tudor Productions extensive work on French composer Erik Satie. Watch their take on his only play Medua’s Trap , a 150th birthday concert celebration , a performance of uspud at made in roath and the ongoing Vexations fundraiser for OCD UK. 

Image Credit: BBC Now

Related Articles:

Review: NDCW – P.A.R.A.D.E. & Tundra @ WMC

Review: WNO – From The House Of The Dead @ WMC

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