The Janáček Brno 2020 International Festival promptly replaced yesterday's Hungarian performance of the opera Salome by Richard Strauss. Instead of the guest appearance, the National Theatre Brno offered a concert programme under the simple name Orchestra of the Janáček Opera. After a long time, the audience could see the musicians who normally remain hidden inside the orchestra pit. In addition to the orchestra, which was conducted by Robert Kružík, the violinist Josef Špaček and the pianist Miroslav Sekera also appeared. The programme clearly consisted only of the works by Leoš Janáček, and since the originally planned performances can no longer be staged in the ever-tightening quarantine environment, the evening at the Janáček Theatre meant a farewell to the festival as such. The last live concert of the Janáček Brno 2020 festival is today's performance of the Brno Philharmonic in the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in Old Brno.
Last night began with the composition Žárlivost (Jealousy), originally planned as an ouverture to Janáček's third opera Her Foster Daughter, perhaps better known as Jenufa. However, the music in this work has only a little in common with the opera itself, and it was not played as an ouverture even at the premiere of the opera in 1904. Žárlivost therefore became a separate composition sui generis, which is sometimes played (or sometimes is not) at the beginning of Her Foster Daughter, depending on the edition chosen by the producers. Thanks to its suitable length, expressiveness and compactness, it is also often used as an appropriate start to a programme featuring Janáček's works - and this was the case yesterday as well. Žárlivost thus started the excellent programming concept of the evening, which cannot be labelled as making a virtue of necessity, meaning a replacement concert in an emergency situation. It was in fact a full-fledged and well-thought-out programme. The good feeling of it was enhanced from the beginning by the maximum commitment of the orchestra and the corresponding musical performance – rhythmic and intonational accuracy, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Above all, the dynamic changes made by the musicians breathed life into Janáček's Žárlivost.
The violin concerto The Wandering of a Little Soul (Putování dušičky) is one of the works that the composer did not complete during his lifetime and of which only one movement of approximately fifteen minutes has been preserved. Professors and composers Miloš Štědroň and Leoš Faltus reconstructed the composition in 1988 and the Brno Philharmonic performed it in Brno the very same year. Since then, The Wandering of a Little Soul has been recorded several times. The violinist and concert master of the Czech Philharmonic Josef Špaček, who joined forces with the orchestra of the Janáček Opera yesterday, also did his bit in 2015. Špaček is a master of crystal clear tone and precise work with the bow – even the most expressive parts in gradations, where some "dirt" and roughness can always appear, penetrate the orchestra like a precisely measured cut with a scalpel. Although Špaček's performance was miles away from interpretive coldness, his expressiveness is much more subtle, much softer and more sophisticated. Even wherever lyrical motifs appear, the violinist does not "overplay" them, making the result more musically convincing and much more inward looking and real than an exaggerated play of emotions. It ought to be said that the orchestra went forward to the violinist in this respect – sensitively, tenderly, but not mournfully. However, the most impressive positions of the orchestra were yet to come.
The Suite for Strings (Suita pro smyčce) represents Janáček's first preserved orchestral composition and dates from the period before his studies at the Leipzig Conservatory. Despite its name, the work does not consist of traditional suite movements, but its six parts are named after tempo markings. Although the composition does not yet contain the characteristic features of Janáček's musical handwriting, it reveals the author's excellent melodic imagination and refined feeling for the instrumentation of string instruments. And it was here that the musicians, headed by the conductor, were able to prove their dynamic and expressive abilities to the greatest extent. Robert Kružík emphasised even the most subtle changes in the music’s texture. Both the dynamic and the tempo sides were full of tiny peaks, falls, sighs and tense delays. Both Adagios became truly captivating in the rendition of the orchestra of the Janáček Opera – the first with flawless phrasing and fragile dynamics, and the second with Josef Klíč's cello solo overflowing with emotion. Praise is deserved above all by the powerful vibratos, to which the performer added particularly sensitive endings. The conductor Kružík mastered not only the lyrics, but also the faster parts – for example, he lent the short dance-like Andante con moto not only the lightness of dancing, but also certain distinguished airs and tidiness. After all, the orchestra of the Janáček Opera played so beautifully that it earned a few unplanned applauses between various movements (which is a bad but cute habit that also affected the Lachian Dances).
However, the string orchestra was soon replaced by a much more intimate line-up – violinist Josef Špaček and pianist Miroslav Sekera undertook Janáček's Sonata for Violin and Piano (Sonáta pro housle a klavír). From the passionate and lyrical first movement through the warm, melodic and folk music-soaked second movement up to the tiny scherzo and the tormenting finale that brilliantly culminates in silence, the interplay of the two musicians remained at the highest level of interpretation. Especially well done were Špaček's transformations of gentle violin chord arpeggios into harrowing and rough notches in the Allegretto movement. Miroslav Sekera kept himself more in lyrical positions and acted as a clear counterweight to the moodier violin. The common and precise rubatos of both performers also added some glitter to the composition. The closing composition of the evening was supposed to be Janáček's Lašské tance (Lachian Dances), which would make the evening dramaturgically draw the imaginary circle – from the popular ouverture, through intense, gloomy and contemplative works, to the Lachian Dances, which is a work loved by audiences. Especially the thorough Dymák (The Blacksmith) and the capricious Čeladenský (Dance from Čeladná) with its characteristic rhythm were rendered by the performers in such a convincing manner and with such a refined feeling for Janáček's musical work that the individual parts were given additional unexpected ovations between the movements. After the final Pilky (Handsaws) dance, it seemed the evening was drawing to a close. However, the organisers had one more ace up their sleeve. After speeches delivered by the director of the Janáček Theatre, Martin Glaser, the artistic director of the opera, Jiří Heřman, and Tomáš Jedlička, the director of the Waldorf Elementary School and Nursery School in Brno, expressing thanks to the ensemble of the Janáček Theatre and to the audience, the soprano singer and protagonist of Libuše at the Opera of the National Theatre Brno Lucie Hájková came on stage and, side by side with children from the Waldorf School, recited verses from the closing part of Smetana's opera. Although the composer's music expressly calls for singing, the power of declamation, amplified by the current difficult times and the contemptuous views of the highest government officials toward culture, its condition and difficulties, was able to deeply strike the audience as well as the performers themselves. The National Theatre Brno has brought us many strong moments and breathtaking experiences in recent years. However, it is a great shame and also disgraceful behaviour by the highest representative of the state with his proclamations towards artists that this time it happened during such an unfortunate and excruciating period. Music, theatre, fine arts and exhibitions cannot be taken for granted – in fact, they require a lot of systematic work and determination. We are truly lucky that in Brno, in key cultural institutions such as the National Theatre Brno, there are really competent people in their positions who will probably be pretty unlikely to find understanding at Prague Castle. Nevertheless, they received a big portion of it from the audience that gave the artists a prolonged standing ovation.
JOSEF ŠPAČEK – VIOLIN
MIROSLAV SEKERA – PIANO
ROBERT KRUŽÍK – CONDUCTOR
ORCHESTRA OF THE JANÁČEK OPERA OF THE NATIONAL THEATRE BRNO
ŽÁRLIVOST ('JEALOUSY' – INTRODUCTION TO HER FOSTER DAUGHTER), JW VI/2
VIOLIN CONCERTO PUTOVÁNÍ DUŠIČKY ('THE WANDERING OF A LITTLE SOUL'), JW IX/10
FOR SOLO VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA
STRING SUITE, JW VI/2
SONATA FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO, JW VII/7
LAŠSKÉ TANCE ('LACHIAN DANCES'), JW VI/17
Saturday,10 October 2020, Janáček Theatre