This grand-canvas concert in Bedford’s Corn Exchange saw an intense, in-your-face approach applied to Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony after a much more subtle Hummel Trumpet Concerto.

Lucienne Renaudin Vary
© Simon Fowler

Dvořák’s Carnival overture of 1891 is the second of three concert overtures composed on the themes of nature, life and love, sandwiched between In Nature’s Realm and Othello. Life, in all its thrilling cacophony, was in ample supply here. The big sound inevitably granted by such a large orchestra playing in a hall of relatively modest proportions means that extra attention has to be paid to clarity of articulation, which was managed with apparent ease. Each appearance of the opening theme danced with spritely light touch, propelled by the machinations of the percussion section. The solos of the softer spoken passages were played with considerable elegance, memorably so by the cor anglais.

French trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary was soloist for Hummel’s Trumpet concerto in E flat major (variously also played in E major). At the age of just 19, she plays with remarkable assurance and a beautiful depth of tone. The grace notes of the first movement’s second theme were treated with a brilliant mixture of poise and fun, while the longer sounds of the slow movement were shaped with great care and purity of sound. The lively finale offered ample opportunity for virtuosic acrobatics, sensitively supported by a highly refined, pared down orchestra.

Paavo Järvi’s approach to Dvořák 7 would be stirring enough in the orchestra’s usual home on the Southbank, but in this hall it was enough to pin the audience back in their seats. It was masterfully paced on both microscopic and macroscopic scales, each phrase turned coherently into the next, each paragraph weighted amongst a movement, and the symphony as a whole utterly compelling. 

The inescapable onwards roll of the first movement grew organically from dark clarinet and timpani sunrise to a blazing, dashing finale. At the music’s highest peaks, there were moments when one felt almost shell shocked by the intensity and directness of the sound, though the sense of this as Dvořák stretched to its dramatic limits added much to the excitement. There were many moments of attractive individual playing in the inner movements, especially in an exultant horn solo in the second, though there were also a frustrating number of lapses in intonation and ensemble. Once righted, though, the Scherzo stood with grace and thrill aplenty, every detail of the sound laid bare in Järvi’s translucent textures.

The finale, taken at rock steady pace to the very end, took on a sense of inevitability as the tension grew inexorably. The strings played in turn with crisply clean attack and elsewhere a soaring, rich softness, the whole orchestra built from the collective low strings, low brass and timpani to Järvi’s right. The horns, meanwhile, made the most of their position in the centre of the stage on a platform higher than the rest of the orchestra, giving a huge sound when called upon. The coda was towering and mesmerising, enough to blow out the most resilient of cobwebs. Though there was actually a mere 65 minutes of music in this concert, it had the emotional clout of something closer to double that.