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Regardless of Offstage Worries, Onstage It’s All Artistry

Czech Philharmonic Plays Carnegie Hall
Regardless of Offstage Worries, Onstage It’s All Artistry

Czech Philharmonic Jiri Belohlavek leads the orchestra in Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 at Carnegie Hall. Credit Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

The Czech Philharmonic, a world-class orchestra that visits New York too rarely these days, made its first appearance at Carnegie Hall since 2004 on Sunday afternoon. Its absence, which may relate to its perilous financial state and organizational difficulties of recent decades, has made it hard to judge from afar how it may be faring artistically after those very problems under the leadership of Jiri Belohlavek, its chief conductor since 2012.

It provided a tentative answer in the affirmative with its recently released recordings of Dvorak’s nine symphonies and three concertos in a fine six-CD set from Decca. But live performances reveal more, and it was good to have that judgment confirmed on Sunday.

This is actually Mr. Belohlavek’s second term with the orchestra, the first having ended abruptly in its second year, 1991, when the players, newly empowered to elect their leaders, spurned him in favor of a German, Gerd Albrecht. The wounds have evidently healed.

And the year and a half spent recording Dvorak recently must have amounted to a crash course in the style, if such were needed by an orchestra still overwhelmingly made up of Czechs. (Again, this is partly a function of finances, since the players’ salaries, paltry by Western and especially American standards, do not attract many outsiders.)

In any case, the performance of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony that concluded the program was lovely, flexible in its tempos and phrasing. The strings were warm and caressing, the brasses brash and incisive; the woodwinds sang with a slightly nasal, Slavic character and danced with a playful show of elbows and knees.

Janacek’s brazenly colorful “Taras Bulba” proved similarly congenial to these performers. A symphonic rhapsody in three movements, it memorializes the deaths of Taras Bulba — Gogol’s fictional hero, a fighter for the liberation of a Ukraine then under the thumb of Poland — and his sons, Andrei and Ostap. The tender moments were hardly less impressive than the blustery ones.

And more bluster: The program ventured from the Czech homeland only as far as Hungary, with Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Jean-Yves Thibaudet was the excellent soloist, bringing just the right flair to the work’s built-in flamboyance. He played brilliantly and seemed scarcely to break a sweat in the cascading scales and crashing octaves.

Here and elsewhere, there were several excellent solo stints from orchestral musicians, especially those by Josef Spacek Jr., a concertmaster, in the Janacek; Vaclav Petr, the principal cellist, in the Liszt; and, on the English horn, Vojtech Jouza in the Dvorak.

The concert was rich with encores. Before intermission, Mr. Thibaudet offered an unpublished Schubert waltz in G flat, said to have been jotted on a tablecloth as a wedding gift, arranged by Richard Strauss. In its utter simplicity and gentle lyricism, it proved an ideal foil to Liszt’s bombast.

Mr. Belohlavek and the orchestra closed the afternoon with Smetana’s rousing Overture to “The Bartered Bride” and Oskar Nedbal’s swooning “Valse Triste.”

Before the concert, Mr. Belohlavek was awarded the 2014 Antonin Dvorak Prize by the Czech Academy of Classical Music for his life’s achievement and particularly his service to Czech music. The ceremony and concert were attended by Antonin Dvorak III, Dvorak’s grandson.

The original manuscript of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony is on display through Friday at the Czech Center Gallery of the Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street, Manhattan; 212-988-1733, bohemianbenevolent.org.

A version of this review appears in print on November 18, 2014, on page C3 of the New York edition with the headline: Regardless of Offstage Worries, Onstage It’s All Artistry. Order Reprints|Today's Paper|Subscribe

 

By JAMES R. OESTREICHNOV. 17, 2014
Zdroj: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/18/arts/music/czech-philharmonic-plays-carnegie-hall.html?_r=0,

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