Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 17, 2022

REVIEW: BSO, "Pathways from Prague"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
July 7 & 14, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

Emanuel Ax
Full-blooded passion characterized both the Czech music and the performances in the first two of three programs in this series curated by and featuring Tanglewood favorite guest pianist Emanuel Ax. They also shed new light on major composers Dvorak and Janacek by presenting some of their least known works. 

The first concert opened with Janacek’s haunting 1920 cycle of 22 brief songs, “The Diary of One Who Disappeared,” for tenor, contralto, three female voices, and piano. Janik, a farmer’s son, is seduced by Zefka, a Gypsy girl, and “disappears” with her after she bears him a son. Tenor Paul Appleby was a fervent Janik, contralto Emily Marvosh, a fiery Zefka, three members of the Boston-based Lorelei Ensemble, an evocative offstage chorus; and Ax, an intense accompanist. 

The short melodic rhythms of the Czech language were less jagged but equally heartfelt in the second concert’s choral selections by Janacek and Dvorak. Sung with seamless blend by Cantus, a low-voice ensemble of four tenors, two baritones, and two basses, their sources ranged from anonymous folk texts to Lord Byron in Czech translation. Highlights included Janacek’s powerful “The Little Dove,” Dvorak’s “Goin’ Home,” with words by his American student William Arms Fisher (and an affecting solo by baritone Jeremy Wong), and two spirituals arranged by Dvorak’s African-American student Harry T. Burleigh.   

The young American Dover Quartet closed the first concert with an impassioned account of Dvorak’s 1895 thirteenth string quartet, with a dramatic “Allegro moderato,” a ravishing “Adagio ma non troppo,” a fleet “Molto vivace,” and a jubilant “Allegro con fuoco” finale. In the second concert, rising American pianist Mackenzie Melemed played Janacek’s shattering two-movement piano sonata, written in memory of a Czech student killed in a 1905 street protest, with blazing conviction. He then joined Ax, his Juilliard teacher, in the piano four-hands versions of five Slavonic Dances by Dvorak, less familiar than their orchestral transcriptions but just as exuberant in these energetic renditions. 

The final “Pathways from Prague” concert on August 12 in the Koussevitzky Music Shed will present Ax, violinists Pamela Frank and Leonidas Kavakos, violist Antoine Tamestit, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma in music of Dvorak, Janacek, and the rarely heard Viteslava Kapralova.