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Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Cambridge

On Tuesday 15th November 2016 The Czech National Symphony Orchestra (CNSO) were in

Cambridge for a Concert at the Cambridge Corn exchange as part of the 2016-17 Cambridge Classical Concert Series. Cool Classics Presenter Jon Aveling went along to see the action. 

The Czech National Symphony Orchestra is celebrating its 23rd birthday in 2016 and has a reputation for versatility. This concert covered three pieces. It commenced with Schubert’s unfinished Symphony where the Orchestra was conducted by maestro Heiko Mathais Forster. The Orchestra was then joined by British cellist Natalie Clein, former young musician of the year and Eurovision competition for Young Musicians winner who played Shostakovich’s cello concerto number one and the evening ended with Maestro Libor Pesek conducting the Orchestra through a performance of Dvorak’s symphony number 8.

The first thing that catches the eye about the CNSO is that it is very male dominated. Only just over a handful of their members are female. Just an observation but that was a contrast to the RPO who were at Cambridge performing last month. Secondly, because of medical advice Maestro Pesek would only have the baton for the second half of the concert giving way to Maestro Forster for the first two works. His conducting style was quite flamboyant and his mass of curly hair bobbed and weaved as he gesticulated with his baton while keeping ultimate control. More about flamboyance later!

Schubert’s unfinished symphony divides opinion. Scholars tend to say that it is unfinished however several contemporary figures including conductor Nickolaus Harnoncourt believe the 2 movements were exactly as intended. Schubert died in his 30’s and only he really knows. He wrote 12 Operas but whoever really hears of a Schubert opera? I digress: the performance of this piece was a joy to the ears, the strings resonating beautifully and the orchestra pitch and tone with variations as intended by the composer coming across really well. A genuinely enjoyable interpretation that got the ovation it deserved.

The second piece was by Shostakovich and the cello concerto number one. The orchestra was joined on stage by soloist Natalie Clein on the cello. In the programme for the evening Natalie Clein was shown as a violinist!  Minor oops!

What can I say about the performance? I have to be honest and say I am not a great fan of Shostakovich’s work. It conjures up a real picture of the post war Soviet Union for me and I find it quite harsh, dark and cold. Being objective and given the oppression he suffered perhaps that is exactly the impression Shostakovich wanted his audience to have from his music. With regard to this evening’s performance, this was the first time I had seen and heard Natalie Clein live. She is very animated in her performance. She absolutely lives the piece. At times this evening I thought she was about to be moved to tears such were her expressions. Her musicianship is excellent and whilst I would not be upset if I never heard the piece again her performance was worthy of the ovation she received. As an encore she performed a piece by Pablo Casals called song of the birds. In truth I preferred this short but melodic piece as it did allow her 18th century cello to shine and she demonstrated really fast hand speed.


After the interval Maestro Pesek took to the stage and at 83 showed why he is considered among the worlds leading conductors. I got the impression he could have conducted Dvorak’s symphony number 8 in his sleep! With a quick flick of the baton or a simple hand gesture he kept complete control of the orchestra through what I have to admit is one of my favourite pieces. The whole performance oozed quality and class and again the lovely tone of the strings shone through thanks to the acoustics. The rasping trumpet sections also came over really well and a deserved ovation bought an encore in the shape of a tango led by the trumpet. At the conclusion the trumpeter ( Jan Hasenorhri I believe) was called to centre stage for a deserved ovation. He needed some lungs for that encore!

All in all another enjoyable night. The only minor thing to mention was that the auditorium was only two thirds full. That’s a shame as the performance was deserving of a full house. Perhaps this will happen at  other concerts in this series that runs Until June 2017. The next concert is 3rd December with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra together with Artist in residence Alison Balsom and acclaimed pianist Gabriela Montero, more details can be found here


Keep listening to Cool classics on HCR104FM at 7pm every Sunday throughout November as 2 tickets for the December concert are available as a competition prize.