No doubt like many others, one of my earliest forays into the world of classical music came with hearing Vltava – Smetana’s ever-lovely sound-movie of the major river of the Czech Republic. All these years later it is still a favourite and one of the most moving evocations of the natural world created in music.
Yet to hear it in place with its surrounding cast of the five other musical pictures in the full set Má Vlast, played here with verve and vigour by the BSO at Lighthouse, Poole, made an extra special occasion – a great way to celebrate Smetana’s 200th birthday.
It was especially warming to hear this work conducted by an old friend of the BSO, Jac van Steen. As a Dutchman, he has recently been specially honoured by being asked to conduct this music on Czech Independence Day in the Smetana Hall in Prague. The resulting authority and confidence of this BSO performance brought a special resonance to the evening.
This was aided by the brilliant idea of adding colour-coordinated surtitles in the Concert Hall, briefly describing what each section of the music was depicting. Delicately, not patronisingly done.
Above all, Má Vlast is highly coloured music. Each section of the orchestra gets its chance – or multiple chances through the whole hour and twenty minutes’ music – to shine. These moments were emphasised by a performance marked with dramatic changes in dynamics and tempi. The result was a very satisfying experience. Šárka, for instance, offered a very vivid impression of the man-hating heroine and her blood-thirsty revenge on the males of the species.
The mystic army, ready to come to the aid of the Czech nation, seemed plausibly real in the concluding section Blanik, and the gorgeous waterscape of Vltava flowed directly to this listener’s heart.
While each section hit its spot, the cumulative affect of hearing these six pieces in sequence was remarkable. There is no need to fear the over enthusiastic promotion of nationalism, when such fine art is so beautifully played with such dignity.
We also received a review from Bournemouth Echo who said the performance was “overflowing with joy, pride and exuberance”
To watch the full live stream click here (available until 23 Feb)