Sunday, March 25, 2012

NSO plays Dvorak, Janacek

Took in the NSO's Prague/Budapest/Vienna "off-night" show Friday, mainly for the welcome opportunity to hear two Janacek chamber works--the "Concertino" for piano-left hand, strings, clarinet, horn and bassoon, and the "Capriccio," also for piano left-hand and a variety of brass and wind instruments, minus the strings. These pieces hail from the heart of his mature period (1926 and 1925 respectively) but meander much further than the familiar sound of the first string quartet or the operas of the early 20s. Both use the building blocks of the folk songs that inspire so much of Janacek's work, but they are largely unrecognizable in the more abstract setting of these works.
This is really a fascinating side of Janacek, and it was a great chance to hear them live--but overall the performance didn't quite come together for me. No doubt greater familiarity would make for a more rewarding experience, but at the same time the NSO players and pianist Lukas Vondracek (and assistant conductor Ankush Kumar Bahl who led the Capriccio) seemed to miss some of the playful propulsive energy and mercurial texture so key to the appeal of these works. Both seemed frequently trapped in a plodding tempo, while Vondracek's work at the piano often felt heavy-handed and too deliberate.
The bookends for the Janacek were two Dvorak Serenades conducted by Eschenbach. The first, for winds in D minor (Op.44), was charming, with standout work done by the main quartet of oboes and clarinets. The familiar Serenade for Strings in E major (Op. 22) constituted the entire second half and, despite being the "greatest hit" on the program, generated some real interest thanks to Eschenbach's sensitive but not overly sentimental reading, and the NSO strings' great responsiveness to his ideas. The piece was only somewhat marred by a strident, uneven tone here and there and a few rough edges on some of the more exposed passages.
Here's Downey's take.

No comments: