Thursday, March 1, 2012


February 26

A special chemistry with Pragueʼs youngest orchestra.

Good to see Jakub Hrůša back at the podium with the Prague Philharmonia on Sunday night. Like many of the Czech Republicʼs finest classical musicians, he is more in demand outside the country – currently, as principal guest conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, music director of Glyndebourne on Tour, and in guest appearances this season ranging from Amsterdam to Dallas. At home, he is in his fourth season as the Philharmoniaʼs chief conductor and music director.

Itʼs not hard to see why. At the age of 30, Hrůša brings an enviable combination of youthful energy and musical intelligence to the stage, along with a solid command of the Czech repertoire. Heʼs proven himself adept at handling material ranging from Britten and Puccini operas to obscure works by Bohuslav Martinů. And heʼs not been shy about adding 20th-century and contemporary works to the Philharmoniaʼs programming mix.

That versatility was on display at the Sunday concert, which opened with the Dances of Galánta, Hugarian composer Zoltán Kodályʼs updating of traditional folk music. Hrůša set a brisk tempo that picked up momentum as the piece developed, perhaps too fast at times, losing a touch of clarity. Still, the orchestra sounded sharp and spirited, and the woodwind solos sparkled.

Dazzling technique.
Tchaikovskyʼs familiar Violin concerto in D major, Op. 35 featured a strikingly young soloist, 19-year old Fumiaki Miura. The youngest winner ever of the Hannover International Violin Competition (in 2009), Miura started playing at the age of three and is currently studying at the Vienna Conservatory. He brought an exceptional instrument – the 1702 “Lord Newlands” Stradivarius, on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation. It has a rich, mature tone that added years to his sound, but otherwise Miuraʼs inexperience with the instrument showed. He confided after the concert that he has only been playing it for a month, which explains why some notes sounded more like scratches than music.

But there is no denying Miuraʼs considerable technical skills. He is precise, dexterous and focused, and showed an impressive knowledge of the violin in eschewing the use of the E string during the second movement, opting to work in the lower register. Though it shimmers on the surface, there is not much depth to Miuraʼs playing, a quality also evident in his encore, Paganiniʼs Opus 38. But thatʼs a fearless choice, and maturity in his sound will no doubt come in time. For now, he is definitely a rising star to watch.

The program concluded with Dvořákʼs Symphony No. 8, which Hrůša opened with an explosion of great ringing tones that never let up. It was interesting to hear his treatment just two days after Sir Colin Davis conducted Dvořákʼs Symphonic Variations, Op. 78 with the Czech Philharmonic, which sounded tired by comparison. Hrůša needed no score to explore the full dynamics of the eighth symphony, balancing an authoritative sound from the full orchestra with colorful woodwinds, lyrical strings and a crisp timpani. His interpretation respected the music while injecting it with fresh energy – even the waltz portion of the third movement had an invigorating, lively feel.

Some of the credit for that goes to the orchestra, which continues to be the most surprising ensemble in Prague. No orchestra that young and that small should sound so good – at least, by ordinary standards. But there is clearly a special chemistry between Hrůša and the players, who are touring Japan for the next two weeks with Miura and Czech horn virtuoso Radek Baborák. The Japanese are in for a treat.

For more on Jakub Hrůša:

Fumiaki Miura photo by Dan Hannen

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