Nearly six years have passed since Jakub Hrůša’s memorable debut with the Boston Symphony in October, 2016. The Coronavirus likely contributed to that hiatus. It definitely led to the cancellation of the originally scheduled Glagolitic Mass. Given the ease of respiratory transmission associated with the Omicron variant, the BSO decided not to perform a piece with chorus and soloists at this time. Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony remained; Janáček too, but now via the short piece, Jealousy, and Lukáš Vondráček made his BSO debut with Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor.

Jakub Hrůša and Lukáš Vondrácek
© Winslow Townson

Based on a gruesome Czech folk song expressing similar acts and emotions, Janáček initially wrote Jealousy as the brief overture to Jenůfa. The composition of that opera spanned nearly a decade of fits and starts, so by the time the score was complete, Janáček had deemed the overture old fashioned and replaced it with a short prelude. Yet, he thought well enough of it to give it a title and a life of its own. Hrůša animated this condensed series of colorful episodes and surprising transitions with drive and an unsettling, edgy energy which whet the appetite for more Janáček on his future programs.

Though Vondráček is a tall, imposing individual, seated at the keyboard he assumes a posture familiar to any cat owner: crouched, focused yet aware of his surroundings, wary, and ready to pounce on the keyboard, landing with force or a feline lightness of touch. That contrast between power and sensitivity/dark and light was the bedrock of his performance of a piece whose episodes continually shift between both, beginning with the soloist’s opening series of chords which presaged the dynamic range of the entire concerto. His sense of structure also created an expressive arc which ran through and tied together the three movements. Orchestra and soloist fed off each other, dense dark colors in the strings complementing those of the soloist in the opening, for example. Tempi were brisk but elastic, broadening for the more rhapsodic moments. Sometimes, however, the drive and intensity of Hrůša’s direction led the orchestra to cover the soloist and otherwise compromise balance.

Jakub Hrůša conducts the Boston Symphony
© Winslow Townson

A similar tendency marred an otherwise uniquely energetic performance of the Sixth. Often treated like Dvóřak’s “Pastoral” Symphony, Hrůša countered with a robust, but colorful and dynamic performance once again marked by quick, nimble tempi. The ebullience was contagious and tinted with humor, the initial accents of the Scherzo’s furiant hinting at a heavy-footed clumsiness, the fourth movement’s counterpoint wearing a mischievous smile. A glow, radiant as the rising sun, gradually infused the finale and built to a celebratory blaze, making a compelling case for an often overlooked symphony.