Review: BBC Philharmonic @ Leeds Town Hall – ‘lyrical and vigorous’

By March 7, 2016

Music. Leeds.

Conductor Juano Mena

Conductor Juano Mena

Juano Mena conducts the BBC Philharmonic in a scintillating, thrilling performance of three Eastern European musical masters at Leeds Town Hall. His dynamic control displays every emotional climax, each lyrical interlude to perfection.

As for Augustin Hadelich, this young solo violinist’s staggering virtuoso performance in Bartok’s Violin Concerto no. 2, show not only his dexterity, but also his amazing range of expression. From a waterfall of notes to a sudden change of pace in a slow lyrical passage, and back to the glittering shower of jewels from his 1723 Ex-Keisewetter Stradivarius.

In Smetana’s Ma Vlast: Vlatava (‘My Land’) Mena’s controlling hands sensitively model the undulations of the composer’s graceful portrait of his native Czechoslovakia, using the river – Vlatava – as his metaphor. From the sparkling young stream, to the maturing, stately river undulating through gentle fields, through rough rapids, then on to its dramatic union with the Elbe, all expressing the gaiety, the folky feel of the Czech idiom.

Violinist Augustin Hadelich

Violinist Augustin Hadelich

But Bartok’s violin concerto no. 2 is the highlight for me: a carefully crafted cacophony, created by a genius. It is a constant flux of dense sound – like reality itself, but very individual to the composer. With his strange-sounding  Hungarian notations and scales created, he experiments with new original harmonics and discords. What constant change of pace and emotion! What variety of rhythms and tonal changes! This confusing piece of densely packed texture is captured, analysed, controlled by the conductor and soloist, to perfection.

The familiar old favourite, Dvorak’s 9th Symphony – ‘to the New World’, with its “Going home, going home…” theme, on a fresh, hearing, is injected with a new, lively, tumultuous vigour. Melodies galore, appearing from out of the dense texture, then replaced after resolution, by new, equally moving themes. It is as if a flower sent outside bloomed, grew and developed only to be replaced by fresher, related, newer blooms.

An exciting performance with lots of thrilling crescendos, followed by emotionally moving lyrical passages. The folk dances giving the Eastern European, Bohemian flavour throughout. A really splendid, lyrical and vigorous interpretation.

Reviewed by Barry Fox on 27th February 2016 at Leeds Town Hall as part of Leeds International Concert Season 2015/16.