Czech National Symphony Orchestra Review

Garry Fraser reviews the 2024 Festival Orchestral Concert at Perth Concert Hall on Saturday 25 May.

In past years of the Perth Festival, the final concert was always courtesy of a world-famous orchestra alongside a world-famous soloist. Times have changed and while the final slot isn’t always as it was, the festival organisers can still find room for the aforementioned.

This year it was the Czech National Symphony Orchestra with Chloe Hanslip (violin) as soloist. This looked great on paper, and I was expecting the “wow” factor. Ms Hanslip supplied that in abundance in her thrilling performance of the Bruch G minor concerto.

The orchestra? Well, I thought there was a tired look about them and I didn’t think they immersed themselves in the music as passionately as the soloist. Not exactly going through the motions but a rough approximation. Conductor Steven Mercurio made up for any seemingly passiveness with a quite effervescent display.

Smetana’s Bartered Bride overture opened the concert, a popular curtain raiser on any occasion. It was certainly fast and furious, taken at an electric pace. Such speed needs technique, and such technique they supplied – these semi-quaver runs are not for the fainthearted at such a speed.

In the concerto, they naturally played a passive role, leaving the fireworks and virtuosity to Chloe. Being that bit nearer to the stage I could see her total focus, even when she was not playing. I loved her interpretation of the adagio and if the finale was marked “energico”, she took that to heart with a blistering display. Silky-smooth runs, dynamic double-stopping added to a rich creamy tone ticked all the boxes demanded of a five-star performance.

Chloe’s encore – Massenet’s Meditation from Thais – was pure gold, accenting her wonderful mellow tone.

The second half took the orchestra back to their roots with two of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, one slow and melodic the other a rumbustious mix of sensational sounds. This was more like it, with the players engaging more with the music and giving a more inspired performance.

Beethoven’s seventh symphony ended the concert, and normally performances of this great work send shivers down my spine, particularly the second movement. No similar sensations on Saturday night in the Perth Concert Hall, though. It was an excellent yet clinical performance.

But if the previous encore was gold, what can properly describe what happened after the final chord of the Beethoven? A bossa nova! I haven’t heard a more mis-judged or out-of-context encore in my life. I hope I never hear the like again.