It's a rare evening when a relatively unknown conductor takes the podium at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall and directs the National Symphony Orchestra in a concert that blows away the cobwebs from one's musical arteries. But last night, Jiri Belohlavek, recently appointed music director of the Czech Philharmonic, did exactly that with a program that was entirely drawn from the music of his homeland.
Forget one's predispositions toward the piano concertos of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov -- the Czech-grown thing is just as good. The relatively quiet lights of Dvorak's Piano Concerto in G Minor, Op. 33, here played by Rudolph Firkusny, were as bright and tellingly trenchant as any written by his contemporaries or near-contemporaries -- even if Dvorak himself cared little for the instrument's virtuosic capabilities. And those fortunate to hear the Concerto this afternoon or tomorrow or Tuesday evening will no doubt be similarly charmed by the buttery Andante Sostenuto and the zestful Allegro Agitato.
Dvorak's "Carnival Overture," Op. 92, vibrant and heartwarming, came alive in equal measure through the composer's natural flair for orchestration and Belohlavek's genius for realizing every strand of musical color: Rough percussion and smooth woodwind worked in perfect tandem.
But the real surprise of the evening came in Belohlavek's performance of Janacek's Sinfonietta for Orchestra, Op. 60. Janacek, like Dvorak before him, has been relegated to the decidedly second division of musical greats -- on the strength of this performance, without justification. As brilliant and bold as Rachmaninov's "Symphonic Dances," and just as alluring, this five-movement work deserves as many performances.