The evening began with a performance of the Czech national anthem Prague Philharmonic Choir and Czech Philharmonic under the baton Sir Antonio Pappano. This was followed by a welcome by the director of the Czech Philharmonic David Mareček. He then gave the floor to the present Minister of Culture Martin Baxwho, at the end of his speech, expressed his sadness over the death of Karl Schwarzenberg, who left this world just a few days ago (November 11, 2023).
When the creators of the concert were thinking about its dramaturgy, they had no idea how appropriate it would be to start this concert with funeral funeral songs, so-called nénias. Nanny for mixed choir and orchestra was performed in a large orchestra including two harps, the funeral verses were sung from the gallery by the Prague Philharmonic Choir. “Even beauty must die!” This sentence begins the poem by Friedrich Schiller, which inspired Johannes Brahms to set it to music at the time of the death of his close friend, the painter Anselm Feuerbach. The parts where the sopranos mourn the death of beauty sounded particularly poignant in this generally somber composition. The choir’s ethereal sound, evoking mythological images, enveloped the audience in a tone-painting dark mantle.
The first half of the concert continued with one of the most played pieces in the world concert repertoire, Concerto for violin and orchestra in E minor Felix Mendelssohn–Bartholdy. The world-renowned Dutch violinist took over the solo violin Janine Jansen. This composition has three movements – Allegro molto appassionato, Andante and Allegro molto vivace – the unusual thing is that they follow each other without a pause – the ends of the movements are marked as attacca. The solo violin starts playing in the second bar of the piece without waiting for the usual orchestral exposition. The cadence is also unusually placed. After the first movement, the solo bassoon, holding the original fifth of the tonic chord, bridges us into the second, lyrical slow movement. The third movement takes the form of a rondo with recurring motifs, a sonorous violin theme dancing over the orchestral accompaniment.
Janine Jansen brought a great deal of femininity and tenderness to the performance. She perfectly mastered all the technical challenges that Mendelssohn’s part set before her. The result was an intimate sound that greatly benefited from the perfect acoustics of the Dvořák Hall. Her Andante it was quiet, as if restrained, at a relatively measured pace. On the contrary, the climax in the coda was energetic and passionate. Her playing has a magical effect on the audience, throughout the composition we hear the alternation of a bravura soloist with an equally excellent, reliable orchestra.
It was clear from the performance that Janine Jansen and the conductor Antonio Pappano are bound by a long-standing professional friendship – their collaboration had a perfectly coordinated and even symbiotic impression. The audience could not help but reward this beauty with a standing ovation. Janine Jansen in turn delighted them with an encore that was Largo from Sonatas No. 3 (BWV 1005) Johann Sebastian Bach. Unaccompanied Bach seemed to speak a thousand words and resounded in the Rudolfinum space in perfect splendor.
After the break, Dvořák followed Slavic dances – the second part, that is opus 72. Dvořák wrote them in 1886 at the instigation of publisher Fritz Simrock. The genesis was briefly as follows – Johannes Brahms wrote a successful Hungarian dances and advised Simrock to approach Dvořák with a similar project. He wrote the first line Slavic dances in 1778 – were originally intended for “home performance” as four-hand compositions for one piano. Unlike Brahms, Dvořák did not use already existing folk songs, but composed original compositions based on well-known compositional procedures. They were soon orchestrated and so successful that Simrock requested a sequel. Dvořák was not very fond of this – he did not want to work on the same thing twice. Finally, he expanded the radius and included dances such as odzemek, polonaise, Ukrainian dumka and Serbian round in the second line. It reportedly took him a few weeks to compose the entire second series.
The first performance of the famous Antonio Pappano with the Czech Philharmonic was definitely a significant event in our best concert hall. Sir Antonio Pappano, whose talent Daniel Barenboim noticed early on and made him his assistant, is saying goodbye to the post of music director of the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden this season, where he will hand over the imaginary scepter to Jakub Hrůš. From the new season, he will take over as chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.
As far as the “academic” performance of this evening’s songs goes, it was faultless. It was a pleasure to watch Sir Pappano gently caress the music in the slow dummies and, conversely, energetically encourage the strings to a frenzied tempo in Dance No. 7 Allegro vivace. He gave space for everyone to play and at the same time kept the whole in a captivating cohesion.
Sir Pappan’s personality is charismatic and he completely charmed the auditorium. It seems that, although hot Italian blood is mixed in him with a strict British upbringing, he was able to perfectly empathize with our “Slavicness”. The Czech Philharmonic brought into the interpretation of Dvořák’s dances everything Slavic, which is naturally inherent to it and which it does well.
The second half of the evening also ended with a standing ovation, and the audience literally applauded Sir Pappan for the continuation – the encore was a repetition of the joyful and spirited dance No. 7 Allegro Vivace.
Czech Philharmonic • Concert for Freedom and Democracy
November 16, 2023, 8:00 p.m
Johannes Brahms: Nänie for mixed choir and orchestra, Op. 82
Felix Meldelssohn–Bartholdy: Concerto for violin and orchestra in E minor, Op. 64
Antonín Dvořák: Slavic Dances, Op. 72
Janine Jansen – violin
Prague Philharmonic Choir
Lukáš Vasilek – choir master
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Antonio Pappano – conductor