It would be no grave exaggeration to suggest that Dvořák’s melodic inventiveness is one that enriches the charm of Western classical music. Paavo Järvi, after presenting a series of works by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen with the Philharmonia Orchestra last year, returned to present a feast of Bohemian vigour via Dvořák’s three late masterpieces.

Paavo Järvi
© Kaupo Kikkas

The Carnival overture, being the central installment of the orchestral triptych of “Nature, Life and Love”, is a work that brims of buoyant vivacity. Upon the solid gestures of Järvi’s direction, drama as much as festivity was observed, even if the orchestral clarity and warmth of tone were at times compromised. Evidently, Järvi saw ample opportunity for contrasts, as the wistful central thematic group bore shape of an oasis, reflecting the unusually bracing sinew of the outer movements.

Yet the aesthetics of Järvi assured that nothing was zealously overcooked, whilst the large picture was respected with a seriousness of intent. Thus even in the most animated or vehement of occasions a sense of steadiness if not sobriety was present. Such a view was further expressed in the Cello Concerto, which started off slowly in solemn gravity. Capuçon was well within the same chemical makeup, as the ensemble and soloist progressed the piece as an elegiac essay rather than a work of autumnal sunshine. A meditative calm pervaded the spare Adagio, and while the heroic undertone was never fully fleshed out in the Finale, in truth the interpretation of this last movement was never far out from the rest of the brushstroke: sombre, calm and not without a shade of regret. If refreshment implies surprise, the cool breeze of the performance implied something very similar.

Given the preceding performances, it was fitting of Järvi’s judgement to attack the D minor Symphony with a certain monumental starkness. The timpani came rarely gently and the strings did not evince their vibrato cheaply. The explicit melancholy of the Adagio was underplayed with a brisk attitude; little sweetness lingered in the fleet contours of the winds, and a sense of nobility eclipsed a movement that can risk being affective routine.

Yet as much flair as musicality awaited in the second half of the symphony. Through carefully yet fluidly carved out dynamics and judicious interpretative accents, the Scherzo lilted with scintillating vim, even if the architectural foundations remained unshaken. And had the orchestra reserved its finest spirit of the evening for the last movement? The sparring timpani and regimented strings took the volume a notch higher, and save a small blunder from the horns, an exhilarating performance of both sturdy discipline and passion was delivered, to conclude with utmost uplift. Facing the hush immediately following the final note of the score, questions of whether in this symphony Dvořák opted for a textbook darkness to light narrative, or whether he had found a unique voice beyond his musical reverence toward Brahms, all became irrelevant.