Debuts are not perhaps the most relaxing events with space for spontaneity and improvisation, but there are still happy exceptions when the audience actually has the feeling of being part of a spontaneous musical flow, born right there and then. The Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, making his Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra debut, needed just a few bars from the opening of Smetana's Vltava to convince in his deep attachment to the music, whereby a demanding debut changed into a striking performance marked by freshness and fever.

Jakub Hrůša © Pavel Hejný
Jakub Hrůša
© Pavel Hejný
Hrůša's predominantly Czech programme demonstrated enthusiastic leadership, capable of inspiring his orchestra – and the audience – with passionate intensity and balanced precision of interpretation. His interaction with the RCO was exemplary, the whole orchestra attentively responsive to every slight gesture (and perhaps even a wink) from Hrůša. With a huge range of nuance, purity of tone, unanimity and clarity of sound, the orchestra rendered Smetana's popular symphonic poems with pristine passion and vigour. The energy of the conductor led to striking vivid tempi and a concatenation of expressive musical scenes. The famous Vltava (The Moldau), depicting the Bohemian river and pastoral country life on its banks, got the chance to sparkle and scintillate just like a polished gem. The struggle of a legendary female warrior Šárka and her combative fellow fighters, cold-bloodedly slaughtering their enemies, was captured in climactic moments of an already extremely crushing, mighty performance.

The challenging horn sounds from victorius Šárka formed a noteworthy contrast with the gloomy horn lines impregnated with anxiety, pain and infinite longing for relief of Shostakovich's Violin Concerto no. 2 in C sharp minor. Violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann resisted the temptation to thicken the dramatic darkness of this ascetic concerto. Without over-colouring, he added the exactly necessary doses of warmth and firmness which rather softened the Concerto's hopelessness.

Returning to his Czech musical heritage, Hrůša presented the less known Taras Bulba, an orchestral rhapsody based by Leoš Janáček on the eponymous novel by Nikolai Gogol. Though all three delineated episodes correspond to the death of Gogol's cossaks Andrij, Ostap and their father Taras, the rich orchestrated rhapsody left a surprisingly bright and optimist impression. The wonderfully clear brass solos, profound lines of eight double basses, sonorous string unisons, undulating arpeggios of harps and a variety of rhythms, added to by the percussion, created a colourful storm of musical pulsations leading to the inevitable, final explosion. The culmunation – with organ and chiming bells – prepared in its turn the real culmination of the concert; an overwehlming ovation for the orchestra and its conductor. With his debut programme Hrůša has proved to be a musician who can put his personal inspiring stamp on each music piece he conducts.