There is an interesting detail right at the beginning: the two harps are sitting far away in the Philharmonie, one on each side of the stage. In “Vysehrad” the first tone poem in his cycle “Má vlast – my homeland”, Smetana had to decide whether the input theme and the subsequent cadences should be performed by a single player, fitting the profile of the self-accompanying bard, or whether the elements should be distributed between the two instruments.
In the way that Semyon Bychkov conducts the passage with the Munich Philharmonic harps, there are pretty echo effects: as if at the beginning a second voice was answering the first.
In the subsequent poem, the popular “Vltava”, the two flutes which symbolize the two springs from which the river flows, can also be heard distinctly each from the other. And, it was similar also with the semi-staged solo performances of the instruments throughout the performance of the six tone poems.
Throughout, Bychkov achieved a unified sound with the Munich Philharmonic. Although intimidating in their massive appearance, the double basses in the final two parts “Tábor” and “Blaník” – featuring the sublime Hussite chorale – created a pleasant and warm environment. Even within the highlighted trumpet fanfares, woodwinds and horns were well integrated.
This cohesive sound paralleled the excellent and organic way in which Bychkov’s elegant conducting style interpreted the overall arches of the individual symphonic poems. Even with the supposed breaks in tempo, which are totally logical in terms of Smetana’s composition, a fundamentally unifying pulse remained audible.
This was finely modified, for example, in the individual episodes of the “Vltava”, and the final crescendo of the third poem, the gloomy legend where the murderous Amazonian Sárka is unreservedly driven out. But Bychkov never lost the overall image of these individual moments, so that one experienced the cycle both as a single movement, and as a cycle.