For this concert the Prague Symphony Orchestra brought their classical music heritage overseas to Colston Hall. The programme gave us a taste of composers close to the orchestra’s homeland, providing a delightful evening of luxury – in music and in dress code. Members of the orchestra were attired in white tie and tails for the men and full-length black for the ladies, elegant and with an air of grandeur that suited the nature of the large orchestral works they were to perform.

Igor Tchetuev
Igor Tchetuev

The Prague Symphony Orchestra performed under the fantastically meticulous baton of Heiko Mathias Förster, renowned for being one of the most compelling young conductors of his generation. Smetana’s overture to The Bartered Bride opened the evening with a bang. This performance was full of energy and the rising strings at the beginning had me right on the edge of my seat, waiting for that wonderful build into the joyful syncopated main theme. This returned quickly to the speedy strings as Smetana’s music holds back and doesn’t let you indulge for too long. A wonderful start to the concert which combined impressive precision by Förster with an extremely well coordinated string section.

This was the build-up to the sensational, award-winning Russian pianist Igor Tchetuev joining the Prague Symphony Orchestra on stage. He performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4 in G major. It was an undoubtedly good performance of the piano concerto, but it felt at times that the piano and orchestra didn’t quite connect. The piano solo parts were incredibly passionate and heart-warming, Tchetuev injected life into his rendition, and the orchestra was brilliant – but the brilliance didn’t quite make it for me as an overall piece. It may have been the nature of the programme contrasting the Beethoven and the Smetana. Despite this, though, Tchetuev was decisively of extremely high quality as a performer. His confidence on the keys was fiery and soulful, but just reserved enough to be playing with the orchestra. It would have been nice to see a solo performance of his too.

The second half of the concert felt almost as though it was the opposite of the first half. Again, an arguably faultless rendition of Janáček’s Adagio felt much more distant in nature than the showstopper of the evening – Dvořák’s Symphony no. 8 in G major. What a piece. Dvořák’s enthusiasm for composing this music came across in this performance. Not only did it take him a mere month to compose this epic work, but the speed and ease with which he wrote an entire symphony stayed with the Prague Symphony for this concert. As a composer, Dvořák demonstrates in this piece a real understanding for the balance between string and woodwind where the melody dances between the different forces of the orchestra.

This was an evening of mixed pieces but outstanding quality. Förster in action is an absolute must-see for any classical music enthusiast. The way he works with the orchestra is endlessly fascinating and detailed – from his high jumps, where he leapt almost a foot into the air, to his rhythmical, metronome-like fingers keeping perfect timing, visible even from the back of the concert hall. Combined with a world-class pianist and a legendary orchestra, this was a concert to remember.

****1