A capacity audience gave conductor Vaclav Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic an enthusiastic reception at the Kennedy Center Saturday night. The orchestra's program, a rich melodic feast of Smetana, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky, received a standing ovation which in turn drew an encore of two of Dvorak's spirited "Slavonic Dances."
The musicians revealed their full strength -- not surprising for an ensemble that began its life under the baton of Dvorak -- with the composer's Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70. Casting aside the excessive deliberateness he had earlier applied to Smetana's "The Moldau," Neumann found a splendid balance between flexibility and forward motion that allowed for plenty of sentiment without a trace of sentimentality. The orchestra's sound was finely balanced, warm and full in the flowing string passages, delicate and light in the contrasting portions. Apart from some weakness in the woodwinds, the sections displayed solid musicianship skillfully aimed at expressive fullness rather than surface brilliance. Neumann's sure probing produced some rewarding insights, particularly in the third movement scherzo and trio.
Joining the orchestra for Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, the French-Canadian artist Andre Laplante showed sensitivity and a commendable attention to detail, but lacked the power to realize the music's full dimension.