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Musical Jewels Have to be Properly Looked After

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Prof. Jaroslav Přikryl >>>

When a few years ago the idea was first put forward of enriching the early summer concert season with appearances by the Suk Chamber Orchestra and smaller instrumental formations in the attractive setting of Prague Castle, a suitable name had to be found. The name had to embody the highly exacting criteria that informed the programming, and reflect the high calibre of the whole project. The choice of name is an eloquent one: "Musical Gems at Prague Castle." And since the audience is to a large extent international, in a sense these gems could be said to be on a pilgrimage, from Prague via Europe, to the whole world. The Festival, which is now in its fifth year, fills the interval between the Prague Spring and the summer concert season. It consists of a series of early-evening concerts, which do not quite span the duration of a full evening's programme; and it features distinguished guest artists from abroad as well as homegrown soloists.

The programmes are not entirely conventional, and they are not compiled in a routine manner. Mozart is strongly represented, but also, for instance, the Concertino for Flute and Harp by the British composer Stephen Dodgson was given its world premiere. Equally stimulating proved the juxtaposition of Mozart's quintet for flute and strings (in fact a transcription of his most extended piano sonata for four hands, K. 521 in C Major, by the American flautist Robert Stallman, who was also the protagonist in the world premiere performance) with Smetana's String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor, "From My Life." Stallman's transcription is somewhat controversial, transforming the work as it does into a concertante composition, with the flute assigned a dominant role. Smetana's genuinely "chamber" work left a better impression, both as a composition and in its realization by the Martinů Quartet. As well as featuring established artists, "Musical Gems at Prague Castle" also has a policy of opening its doors to young instrumentalists of outstanding promise whose concert activities to date have justified expectations. As a case in point, the harpist Kateřina Englichová is especially compelling. She impressed me with her assurance and her mastery of the instrument. Listening to her leaves one with the feeling that playing the harp is not at all difficult-a deceptive impression, which nonetheless arises when one encounters someone in full command of her art. The young violinist Dana Klimánková may unreservedly be hailed as holding great promise. Her playing bespeaks of both excellent training and a fine aesthetic sensibility, manifested in her beauty of tone throughout her solo contribution and not merely in cantabile passages. Thus, Mozart's Violin Concerto in A Major, K. 219, was a gem indeed-not only as a composition but also as an interpretive achievement.

The Suk Chamber Orchestra is nowadays able to draw on a pool of instrumentalists of truly outstanding quality. This was borne out by the sonorous as well as musically excellent performances of such demanding works as the Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe in D Minor (with Jan Adamus, oboe, and Martin Kos-the leader of the Suk Orchestra-violin) and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 by J. S. Bach. Tonal homogeneity, agogic flexibility, and technical virtuosity-these were the qualities that characterized the performances within the cycle "Musical Gems at Prague Castle" this year, and the solo parts in the Brandenburg Concerto were played with those key attributes by members of the viola section of the Suk Chamber Orchestra, namely Karel Untermüller and Filip Kimel. The peak of this year's Festival was the final concert in the Spanish Hall. The excellent and spontaneous Wilhelm F. Walz stood before the orchestra, conducting with deep understanding and splendid dynamism the opening Suk Serenade in E-flat, Op. 6, and the concluding Mozart Symphony in A Major, K. 201, in which the orchestra was expanded by the addition of wind instruments. The soloists were splendid. Marina Ulewicz (from Germany) was able to command attention throughout Mozart's arias "Bella mia fiamma" and the gentler "Oh Barbaro" (from the opera Il re Pastore.) The second soloist was the admirable Susan Kagan in Mozart's Piano Concerto in F Major, K. 413. She deserved a better instrument, but gave a commendable performance nonetheless.

This year's "Musical Gems at Prague Castle" Festival has drawn to a close, and it is my belief that this ambitious-in the best sense of the word-project needs to be reformed. It is probably necessary to consider what to preserve and what to reshape in coming years; for I believe that it certainly warrants-and richly deserves-the attention of prospective sponsors able to support its further growth.

Autor: Prof. Jaroslav Přikryl
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Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, 16. 10. 1997

" ... In Dvořák´s Serenade, the full measure of the sublimeness of Czech string music sprung forth, and, through the ensemble´s interpretation, ravished the public..."

Music Festival "Janacek's May" - June 1999, Ostrava

"...Suk's Serenade in E flat major, Op. 6 is played by numerous celebrated orchestras. Yet it was not until the performance by this chamber group that hitherto latent beauties of the score were illuminated..."

Hana Jarolímková - Musical Review, No. 8, 1997

" …Janáček´s work was truly well performed by the Orchestra, and proved both its executional and artistic qualities beyound doubt… "

Hana Jarolímková

Some words.. 4. 7. 1997

" …in the performances of this Orchestra nothing is left to chance. Perfect ensemble, precise playing on the part of each musician, but also an indispensable – for chamber music – cultivated overall sound – these are amongst the obvious virtues of the Suk Chamber Orchestra..."

Petar Zapletal

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