Music / Czech Proms Royal Albert Hall

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Libor Pesek began his Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Prom on Thursday with the last of Janacek - two tiny fragments of incidental music to the German play Schluck und Jau. "It will be music and action about two drunk beggars," said Janacek, "one of whom shows how he would rule." So divided strings descend with the alcoholic haze and a solo horn ruminates. As in dreams, so in drunken stupor. For a moment you wonder if Janacek's beloved viola d'amore is about to get maudlin on us, then in come clarinets behaving badly. All Janacek is here: bits of life, fragments of tune, nervily dancing, exulting. Anything goes: horns stopped down in their boots find common ground with a hare-brained piccolo. So little on the page, but so much going on. A grand trumpet-laden maestoso signals the close. In just nine minutes it's all over. Somewhere at the back of your mind, the trumpets are still ringing. The beggar who would be king cannot get Janacek's Sinfonietta out of his head.

Two days later that very piece was filling the Albert Hall. This is about as close as we get to the great outdoors indoors, and that panoply of trumpets - nine of them arrayed just below the organ gallery - sounded mighty impressive. Jiri Belohlavek conducted the BBC SO, and the concert was dedicated to the memory of his compatriot Rafael Kubelik, who died last week. You could hardly have devised a better tribute if you'd planned it in advance. A holy trinity of Czechs - Dvorak, Martinu, Janacek. One last homecoming. Not that I imagine you hear Martinu's Field Mass too often, even in Prague. But this is the Proms, and Henry Wood where others wouldn't. The anomalies of scoring alone put a programme like this beyond commercial consideration. Yet a big house turned out to reward the enterprise. There has to be a lesson in there somewhere.

Martinu's Field Mass is nationalism of a most personal and practical nature. I know of nothing quite like it. Devised for open-air performance by members of the Free Czechoslovak Army (in open defiance of the Nazi threat - 1939 is the date), it's essentially a mass in time of war. Rage, remembrance, and prayers. And the all-pervasive echoes of the battlefield, the sanctimonious wheeze of harmonium, the rattle of drums, the patrolling of muted fanfares. Fractured piano and half-remembered songs suggest that the home fires are still burning. Male voices in wonderfully rich, weathered harmony (the men of the BBC Symphony Chorus superbly drilled) sometimes needed to shout above the elements, a bluff baritone (Ivan Kusnjer, roughly, readily homespun) was the universal soldier, alone with his thoughts. At the close, human voices are left humming in the air; a military drum recedes. We know the rest.

Martinu wrote Field Mass in Paris before fleeing to the New World. Dvorak's arrival there was in happier circumstances. Smiles all round, in fact, as his new setting of the Te Deum was ceremoniously unveiled on the occasion of the quadricentennial celebrations of Columbus's discovery of America. No matter that it began and ended as dizzying and as robustly Czech as a hot-footed furiant. National rejoicing is much the same in any language. Just add fanfares. Plenty of fanfares here, but in amongst them, quiet moments as heavenly as anything you'll find in the whole of Dvorak. Belohlavek, as ever, showed his warmth, his lightness of touch. Soprano Judith Howarth didn't need much coaxing. Dvorak sends her spinning in the final Allelujas. Just one of his little surprises. The closing pages are full of them.

Brief mention of pianist Richard Goode, whose Mozart - Piano Concerto No 27 K595 - should not get left out. Here is a classical stylist with a quality of rapture that is tangible but never misplaced. Playing Mozart is all about "placing". Goode is a master of it.

EDWARD SECKERSON

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