The Welsh National Opera Orchestra under the baton of its Musical Director Tomas Hanus entertained an enthusiastic audience royally at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff.
The programme was divided into two parts with the second being devoted to Czech composer Leos Janacek.
Opening the concert, the WNO orchestra took on Rossini’s perennial favourite, “The William Tell Overture”. This piece never fails to conjure up two contrasting memories. Firstly, sitting in front of the family black and white television on a Saturday afternoon after Grandstand, anticipating my hero The Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto saving the day yet again. My second image is very different, harking back to Malcolm McDowell’s adventures in the bedroom with a couple of girls our anti-hero has picked up, to a greatly speeded up version of the melody in Stanley Kubrick’s, “A Clockwork Orange”. In my declining years, that is the memory, I wistfully try to conjure up the most.
My impression of the playing was that the opening was played a little too languidly. Mind you, that made the contrast to the trumpet announcing the more famous melody to be more striking.
Next we were treated to a soulful rendition of Elgar’s Cello Concert, with soloist, the young Armenian cellist Narek Haknazaryan.
Anybody who takes on this beautiful cello concerto will be compared to the legendary Jacqueline du Pre. She almost single -handedly brought to notice a piece that became regarded as one of the great cello concertos of any century.
Narek did an excellent job of getting somewhere near the benchmark, really getting into his performance exuding great emotional depth and understanding. What the audience would have been unprepared for was an unaccompanied encore, whereby Narek sang, (presumably in Armenian), whilst playing his instrument in such a way I hadn’t seen before. It was an exhibition of total mastery of the cello and had the audience in awe chatting about it during the interval that followed it. Narek’s pedigree is worth consideration. Born into a family of Armenian musicians, his father being a violinist and his mother, a pianist, in 2011, at the age of 22, he won the prestigious Cello First Prize and Gold Medal at the XIVth International Tchaikovsky Competition. He is currently, one of the Vienna Konzerthaus’s Great Talent and is in huge demand to perform, not only in the Austrian capital, but all around the world.
The second half opened with Janacek’s charming finale to his opera, “The Cunning Little Vixen”. The Forester, in a monologue returns to the forest after his pet vixen had been shot dead by a poacher, and reflects on the meaning of life. Slovak baritone Gustav Belacek, sang the part of the forester.
His rich baritone voice resounded around the hall. Gustav is a well travelled and accomplished singer having performed in many of the greatest opera houses and concert halls of the world. He is also a regular soloist with both the Czech and Slovak Philharmonic orchestras.
A thoroughly charming interlude towards the end had young Efan Arthur Williams resplendent in a frog costume hopping on to the stage and singing a few treble lines in a pure clear voice, and this captivated the audience.
The concert concluded with an accomplished rendition of Janacek’s famous Sinfonietta – a great concert favourite, largely due to its dynamic use of an elongated brass section that heralds in and closes the four movement sinfonietta. The well-loved third movement with its imposing melody which the programme describes as a “manic trombone solo”was the highlight of the piece.
Conductor Tomas Hanus was born in Brno in what is now the Czech Republic.
Brno is where composer Leos Janacek grew up and provided the inspiration for much of his creative output. Therefore, you can imagine that Tomos has a natural affinity to this composer’s work, the proof of which is patently obvious whereby he gets the best out of the talented collective body, that is the Welsh National Opera orchestra.
Throughout, the orchestra played with great skill and unity in what was a very varied programme. Their reputation as one of Britain’s finest orchestras is clearly apparent and well merited.
What I particularly liked about the concert was the way that maestro Tomas introduced each piece providing an interesting insight into the work about to be played with warmth and wit. He explained to the audience that the theme of war as exemplified in the selected pieces is highly appropriate as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice. William Tell’s martial theme, Elgar’s Cello Concerto composed shortly after the end of the Conflict, and written at a time when the composer’s mental state was under great stress largely brought on by the horrors of war that preceded it. Janacek’s work is highly nationalistic and the Sinfonietta in particular reflects the new found nationalism that the country found after the end of WW1.
This WNO concert was a highly enjoyable experience and Tomas Hanus managed to convey a meaning to the audience that the orchestra and themselves are part of a family. The playing of the orchestra and the calibre of the international soloists make you anticipate later concerts next year in this series with great interest.