For the most part, the Czech Philharmonic kept its power under wraps Wednesday night in a program of the music of Martinu, Chopin and Stravinsky at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, so when it did let loose, in the demonic outbursts of Kastchei's dance in Stravinsky's "Firebird" Suite and in the last movement climax of Martinu's "Fantaisies symphoniques," it was with stunning effect.
Otherwise, this excellent ensemble made its points with subtlety masquerading as simplicity and with careful attention to balance and clarity, virtues that are rare in music with orchestrations as big as the Martinu or as colorful as the Stravinsky.
Jiri Belohlavek is one of those conductors whose every twitch is a work of art, who can paint the entire score in the air above the podium while remaining poised and in control. While it's always a mistake to assume that these visual attractions automatically translate into musical attractions, they seemed to in this case. The orchestra responded to Belohlavek's eloquence with a grace that was not always machined to perfection but that always had a human warmth.
Andrea Lucchesini was the soloist in the Chopin F-minor Piano Concerto, playing with enormous control and intelligence. He chose restraint over effusiveness and geniality over aggressiveness and, particularly in the slow third movement, made a powerful statement softly.