HALLE DVORAK FESTIVAL Bridgewater Hall
I heard the first of the Dvořák ‘specials’ which ended the Opus One season – and then the brief appendix in the form of a lecture-performance of The Golden Spinning Wheel early on Wednesday evening.
The three Opus One programmes each contained the Dvořák cello concerto, with soloist Gary Hoffman, preceded by a Slavonic Dance (a languorously slow and gentle version of the popular E minor one in the first), and followed by a symphony – nos. 7, 8 and 9, respectively.
The first outing for the concerto was a considerable success, and Gary Hoffman is a strong and eloquent player, but its effect was at least as much down to the orchestra and Mark Elder’s contribution as to his.
Elder really loves the tuneful, mellow sound of Dvořák’s writing and orchestration and had his players well prepared – no awkward scrape up to the top note on the violins, such as is often heard, at the introduction to the second theme in the recapitulation of the opening movement, and a lovely reverie of calm and unashamed emotion in the slow movement. The striding rhythm set at the outset of the third was kept for much of what followed, giving sustained impetus.
The seventh symphony is known for its darker moods, mixed with the sunny pastoralism Dvořák made his own, and its opening movement made an effective transformation from nervy apprehension to bucolic calm. The second movement’s expansion and contraction of emotional breadth were handled surely, and the scherzo’s lilt brought out, at a pretty relaxed pace, with no loss of forthright energy. The finale, too, lit up its 4/4 tread with swaying, flexible dance rhythms whenever they came.
For his music appreciation class on The Golden Spinning Wheel, Sir Mark gave us a full background talk, complete with excerpts from another late Dvořák tone poem, The Wild Dove, as well as the one we were about to hear in full. It was amusingly done and acutely observed, and demonstrated the extent to which the composer was using operatic techniques even in wordless musical story-telling by this point in his career.
It seems to have helped Janáček find his way to speech-inflected melody, too, and there were times, in this vivid full performance of the piece, when you might almost have thought you heard the younger man’s music in embryo.