About Brno’s Christmas on the Blue Violin

12 December 2017, 12:00
About Brno’s Christmas on the Blue Violin

Pavel Šporcl’s new and first Christmas album Christmas on the Blue Violin, with traditional and less well-known carols, came out at the end of the November. At the same time as the CD is coming on to the market Pavel Šporcl is setting out on a tour of the Czech Republic with the same name. He will be coming to Brno on 11 December together with the Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra, the soprano Jana Šrejma Kačírková and the Czech boys’ choir Boni pueri. The programme (of which not much could be found out ahead of time) and the venue for the concert in the Boby Centre hinted at quite a spectacular and challenging production with many question marks and potential pitfalls. And it should be said right at the outset that precisely because of this the concert cannot really be evaluated artistically.

The space of the Boby Centre itself cannot be managed acoustically other than with microphones, given that it is a huge trap, removing all authenticity from any expression of the soloist and orchestra. This meant that during Šporcl’s concert the instruments practically lost their colouring and the human voice its authenticity and soulfulness. A second pitfall was presented by the programme itself. The violinist offered an accessible programme of moving Christmas melodies accompanied by the excellent Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Jan Kučera. The orchestra managed its role, playing wonderfully – if only they had had something to play. The arrangements of Christmas carols by many Czech and foreign composers provided a wide orchestral canvas with a notable contribution from the parts for harp and tubular bells. Aesthetically in itself it did not offer much. Together, they created rather a wave of endearing Christmas sentimentality directed at even emotionally resistant listeners. And as can be seen from the attendance at the concert, the standing ovation and the sales of the new CD, this was what they wanted to hear. But if the artist is of unquestionable quality - and Paul Šporcl undoubtedly is – is such commercial kitsch rather than art at all needed?

The violinist showed his inventiveness in many variants: for example in his own arrangement of the carol Good King Wenceslas for violin and harp. Thanks to the composition itself, and also to the great interplay with the harpist Amelia Tokarska, the version could have gone very well, but that only if the acoustics had worked. Here however the work of the music critic begins and ends. What could have been taken as interpretation was lost in the noise of the speakers. And what would otherwise be the artist’s pleasant and silvery tone, unfortunately remained shrill in the higher register (and this was used very often by the violinist in such romanticised arrangements) and also highly unpleasant even physically on the ear.

The soprano Jana Šrejma Kačírková also suffered with the microphone. Her otherwise rounded and dense voice had its colouration amplified and a susurrus added in the background. In the orchestral interludes the singer’s humming had something of the effect of a hive of bees. And that is a great pity.

Pavel Šporcl is a product of the elite Czech school and what is more a significant Czech phenomenon. There can no doubting his artistic resources. Nonetheless the circus-like and fragmented programme ranging between Bach and Jingle Bells from the Disney fairy tale is a little saddening. It is good to notionally bow before the way in which the soloist gained popularity and what service he has given to the violin as an instrument, the non-musical public and classical music in general. A praiseworthy effort - bringing classical music to the younger generation and society in general, to make it less stuffy - but its programme began to go astray long ago.

In Brno Pavel Šporcl offered only a pleasing concert for the public. Possibly I was there by mistake. When a concert lacks any kind of cultural and artistic contribution, not only in the programme architecture but also in the targeted arrangements, there is also no need for a music critic.

The Christmas on the Blue Violin tour; Pavel Šporcl – violin, Jana Šrejma Kačírková – soprano, Amelia Agnieszka Tokarska – harp, Czech boys’ choir Boni pueri, Pavel Horák and Jaroslav Šlais – choirmasters, Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra, Jan Kučera – conductor, Dana Kruverová – 1st violin
11 December 2017, Boby Centre Brno

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