Prague Symphony Orchestra, Bradford St George’s Hall, Saturday 9th November 2019

THE Prague Symphony Orchestra is currently touring UK concert halls under the baton of its chief conductor. He is the rising young Finnish star Pietari Inkinen now slated to conduct Wagner’s Ring Cycle at next year’s Bayreuth Festival no less.

Inkinen, quite rightly, cherishes his orchestra’s characteristic “Czech” sound. This was evident in the idiomatic woodwind and brass passages of the exuberant Overture and Dances from Smetana’s opera, the Bartered Bride. The unanimity of string attack was breathtaking. So too was the transparency of orchestral detail in the clear acoustic of St George’s. The heavily accented rhythms of the Polka, a fiery Furiant and Dance of the Comedians released the spirit of these infectious Bohemian dances.

The music of Bohisluv Martinu is heard all too rarely in concert hall or theatre. Appreciative audiences at the recent Opera North production of Martinu’s Greek Passion would likely concur. An opportunity to hear a live performance of the Cello Concerto No 1 thus became an experience to be savoured. The (mostly) upbeat score contains echoes of Moravian folksong and affords the soloist opportunities for intense lyrical expression. Laura van der Heijden, winner of the 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year, brought a virtuosic rhythmic vigour and achingly beautiful tenderness to the challenging solo part. Pietari Inkinen and the Prague Symphony Orchestra, with strings reduced from seven to four double basses, were impeccably balanced and responsive concerto partners.

The orchestra was back to full strength for the final work, Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony No 9 in E minor: a beloved souvenir of the Czech composer’s lengthy American sojourn. It is difficult to distinguish between the American spirituals and Bohemian folk tunes so skilfully woven into this symphony. They express Dvorak’s longing for his homeland nowhere more expansively than in the Largo movement’s yearning theme, played by a solo cor anglais. Inkinen’s pellucidly clear account of the ‘New World’ created a rainbow spectrum of orchestral colour. The momentum and dynamic of his performance proved irresistible. Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No 8 in G minor was the ebullient encore.

Geoffrey Mogridge