Review Smetana’s Má Vlast, WNO Orchestra, St David’s Hall by James Ellis

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Tomáš Hanus at the helm of Welsh National Opera has brought unforgettable performances. Be it the extensive operas of Janáček or the deeply moving youth work of Brundibár, the love of his homeland has never been questioned. The homeland in question is the Czech Republic and in a special concert of a Sunday afternoon, Cardiff was treated to the entirety of Má Vlast by native Bedřich Smetana. Truly a love letter to all things Czech, landscapes are meshed with myth and history. This fine orchestral jewel holds up as one of the Romance period’s best musical moments, the composer went deaf during its writing.

It is the duo of plush harps that set us off on this pristine journey through time and place. Filled with innovation, the work proves the composer’s talent in usage of folk melodies and orchestration. The second movement by far the most beloved: Vltava or The Moldau is the voyage of the river from its source to traverse across it’s fair nation. This is always a highlight and has featured in the film The Tree of Life and the animation of Don Hertzfeldt. The melody is borrowed from a catalogue of sources, though the whole movement is essentially perfect.

The next four movements add depth, joy and fascination. If I could read sheet music proper I would love to stick my nose in it. The towering feeling of the following music, goes into the history and myths of the country, Šárka and Blaník remain proof of the dense points of reference. You can most certainly hear Janáček in Z českých luhů a hájů or From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields

The final, sixth moment Blaník, remained a sonic experience, Army of knights led by St. Wenceslas sleep in the cave of the movement’s name was a riot, the brass and timpani coming into their own though through the entire work. Everyone excelled here..

Hanus lives and breaths the work, at moment he didn’t conduct and simply bowed his head. Unafraid to tell the brass to be just slightly quieter through a raised, considerate hand, a plea of pianissimo. Wild gesticulation and feverish physicality are his trademarks. He makes this Welsh orchestra just that little bit more Czech. I have never heard this piece throughout its entirety live and I think its time we did more so.

What also must be said at this time: Let’s keep the classics on at St David’s. They remain its home.

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