Wednesday 16 March 2016

Dvorak's concert overtures from Prague's other orchestra

Dvorak Overtures - Jakub Hrůša, Prague Philharmonia - Pentatone
Dvorak Nature, Life and Love (In Nature's Realm, Carnival Overture, Othello Overture); PKF Prague Philharmonia, Jakob Hrůša; Pentatone
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 82016
Star rating: 4.0

Dvorak's concert overtures in appealing performances from Prague's other orchestra

Dvorak wrote 13 overtures in all, but only three were originally intended as concert works the trilogy Nature, Life and Love which comprises In Nature's Realm Op.91, Carnival Overture Op. 92 and Othello Overture Op. 93. The remainder of his overtures were intended for stage works, both opera and plays. This new recording on Pentatone label teams these three up with Dvorak's two overtures written for stage plays, works which developed a concert life of their own, My Home Op.62 and Hussite Overture Op 67. The performers are the PKF - Prague Philharmonia, Prague's other orchestra, conducted by Jakub Hrůša . Hrůša, the orchestra's chief conductor from 2009 to 2015, is in fact a pupil of Jirí Belohlávek, who founded the Prague Philharmonia in 1994.

Jakub Hrůša and PKF - Prague Philharmonia in February 2014
Jakub Hrůša & PKF - Prague Philharmonia in February 2014
Dvorak's three overtures, Nature, Life and Love (written 1891 to 1892) come between Symphony No. 8 (1889) and Symphony No. 9 (1893) and seem to prefigure Dvorak's later interest in programme music which gave rise to the group of symphonic poems written in 1896-97. Dvorak the overtures wrote them to be performed together, the three are contrasting in content yet linked musically. All three share the same main theme (which crops up in different guises in each), and which Dvorak originally seems to have intended to represent the composer himself in his response to the three different situation, but in the event he simply title the three overtures with their programmatic titles.

Though individually the works are programmed occasionally, the chance to hear the three overtures together is rare and this makes a welcome centrepiece of the disc, particularly as Hrůša draws such appealing performances from his orchestra.

Freed from the symphonic constraints, Dvorak brings all of his delightful ear for colour and orchestration to bear in these works. And they represent Dvorak's later symphonic style where musical felicity is combined with complexity in an entirely appealing way. Hrůša gets wonderfully immediate and appealing performances from his orchestra, remarkably fresh and full of delightful detail. The lilting and rhythmic character of the Czech folk music really comes through.

The strings are not too lush or over glossy, and their characterful playing is complemented by some super woodwind playing with lovely solos and still a nice pungency to the sound. Overall the balance is very fine, with the strings not over dominating. They bring out the character of the different overtures, with a strong sense of detail and some really magical moments. Both Carnival  and In Nature's Realm simply teem with life, whilst Othello is a very Czech influenced take on the familiar drama.

Dvorak's overture My Home was written in 1882 for a play at Prague's Provisional Czech Theatre. The play portrayed episodes from the life of the Czech dramatist, writer and actor Josef Kajetan. Dvorak weaves one of Tyl's favourite songs into the work along with a patriotic song (originally to a text by Tyl) which is now the national anthem of the Czech republic. Dvorak used further traditional songs, this time religious songs from the Middle Ages, in his Hussite Overture written in 1883. This too was commissioned for a play, a trilogy about the Czech religious reformer Jan Hus. The plays never got beyond the first act but Dvorak's overture as premiered in 1883.

Both works are large scale, appealing works. Hrůša and his players make a strong case, with the vivid, characterful playing which offsets the more bombastic elements with an interweaving the melodic charm and sprung rhythms Czech folk influence.

The sound quality on the disc captures the orchestra well, and no excuses need to be made from an audio, technical or musical point of view. You can simply sit back and enjoy, be charmed by the appealing vitality and freshness which Hrůša and the orchestra bring to this music.

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) - Nature, Life and Love (In Nature's Realm, Carnival, Othello)
Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) - My Home
Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) -  Hussite Overture
Recorded January 2015, Forum Karlin, Prague
PKF - Prague Philharmonia
Jakub Hrůša (conductor)
PENTATONE PTC 5186 532 1CD [63.14]
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