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3rd December 2018

Christmas and the New Year

On 25 December, Semyon Bychkov returns to conduct the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a special Christmas matinee performance of the complete music to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet. The New Year also sees Bychkov make return appearances with the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln (18-19 January) performing Smetana’s Má vlast and the NDR...

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29th November 2018

A few months ago, Semyon Bychkov took up his position as the new Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic. He opened his tenure with a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 which he also conducted at Vienna’s Musikverein, part of a multi-week tour of Europe and the USA. Bychkov (65), head of the Orchestre de Paris until 1998, the Dresden Semperoper until 2003 and the WDR Symphony Orchestra Koln until 2010,  especially values the fact that the Czech Philharmonic has preserved its “unique identity and the authenticity of expression and sound.” In his performance of Mahler’s “Second,” the “Resurrection Symphony,” the Orchestra demonstrated its “special qualities” such as the massive, rich sound that Bychkov used in the huge build-up and explosions of sound that gave the first and fifth movements an increased sense of theatricality. The second and third movements were idyllic and dreamy, full of irony and pleasure in the parody. The highlights were the vocal passages – the “Urlicht” gently sung by Elisabeth Kulman, the “Aufersteh’n” of the soprano and alto (Christiane Karg and Elisabeth Kulman) and the mighty Choral finale sung by the perfectly rehearsed Singverein, who delicately shaded Klopstock’s text.   Bychkov’s broad and demonstratively powerful conducting gave the performance weight

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28th November 2018

The Czech Philharmonic has had a new Chief Conductor since September: Semyon Bychkov, born in St. Petersburg in 1952, and most recently principal conductor of the WDR in Cologne, has already recorded two Tchaikovsky discs with the long-established Czech orchestra.

For the two performances – with very different programmes – at Vienna’s Musikverein, the Czech musicians did not yet present themselves as consistently as they had on these two recordings.  The more interesting of the two programmes was on the first evening: Fišer’s entertaining double concerto for orchestra, inspired by baroque music and marching bands,  Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto in A minor and, the best known Czech symphony, Dvořák’s New World.   It was this work in particular that showed the Orchestra was still getting used to its new conductor‘s expansive gestures of pathos and strong accents.  Similarly, in the Saint-Saëns, the different views of the technically flawless Gautier Capuçon, with his focus on lucid brilliance and Bychkov, who concentrates more on genuine sonorities, were unmistakable.

The two following evenings’ performances left a better impression:  Mahler’s Second  Symphony ‘Resurrection’.  Of course there is still room for improvement but the lyrical string passages and the security of the interaction between the brass sections was very satisfying.  Here, the musicians were clearly more convinced by Bychkov’s intentions than they had been in the first programme.


The two outer movements thrilled with passion, while the serenity of the second movement enabled one to hear the connection to Schubert.  Equally, in the Scherzo, Bychkov was never carried away by superficial effects, but instead brought out the subtleties in the score.

In the final movement which veers between dramatic turbulence and thought-provoking mysticism the wonderfully rehearsed Viennese Singverein, the Orchestra and the exquisite soloists – Christine Karg and Elisabeth Kulman – achieved a perfectly balanced spontaneity under the direction of their conductor.  The climax, however, was the “Urlicht”, articulated with great intimacy by Kulman and sensitively accompanied by the Orchestra.  It will be remembered for a long time to come

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28th November 2018

Semyon Bychkov has been associated with the Czech Philharmonic for several years and became their Chief Conductor at the start of this season.  They are currently mid-way through a cycle of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies.  The performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony at Vienna’s Musikverein demonstrated that this relationship has much more to offer.

The  long-established orchestra energetically followed the emotional interpretation of its conductor,  the “Totenfeier” was monumental in every respect.  Even though the violins played very softly and the lower strings could have been sharper in the opening bars, there was no lack of dynamism.

Bychkov conducted the Andante skilfully, relying on the warmth of the strings.  What did it matter when the brass missed the odd note or the woodwinds wobbled slightly?.  Bychkov created a large arch, enabling one to hear the meaning of the work: dying and eternal life.

Elisabeth Kulman proved yet again that she is one of the best Mahler interpreters of our day. Her clear, touching alto voice intoned with the total precision and intimacy. Grandioso!

The soprano, Christiane Karg sang with a wonderful, silvery voice.  The Wiener Singverein played a major part in making this performance of the  Resurrection Symphony so touching. The Choir’s singing of the finale completed a memorable performance.  Congratulations

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