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20th August 2020

Opera Plus

Lenka Dohnalova

In 2018, Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov opened the 123rd season of the Czech Philharmonic with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 2 “Resurrection”, suggesting the importance of Mahler for both him and the orchestra when it comes to interpretation and the ensemble’s tradition. A top-notch performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 in D Major, included in the recording plan of the Philharmonic, followed in 2019. On 20th August this year, the orchestra played Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G Major at a special concert, with its Artistic Director Semyon Bychkov again and Israeli-born soprano Chen Reiss.

I felt like someone put glasses on my face during Semyon Bychkov’s performance of Mahler’s No. 4. I finally heard the piece with fantastically clear patterns and dimensionality of the voices and sections, which allowed the originality of the instrumentation and orchestration to shine. The maximum dynamic range stretching from sensitive pianissimos to forte highlighted the combination of organic growth and wilting with sharp cuts. All that which brought Mahler so many admirers and opponents in the next generations of composers of various styles.

Semyon Bychkov chose a slower tempo than usual, with more distinct agogics and dynamics. It first appeared to be on the verge of what can be sustained but I quickly accepted his approach because it continued to develop with consistency. Maybe Bychkov decided for this interpretation of the piece because he is also a successful opera conductor (awarded Conductor of the Year at the 2015 International Opera Awards). I was fascinated by the careful and sensible entrances. Those believable pauses, such as some kind of soothing before the fate strikes, especially beneficial for the psyche in our times when everything seems to be “rushing to the grave” and no one really knows why.

Semyon Bychkov is proving himself to be a very good choice for the Czech Philharmonic, both on the level of interpretation and on personal level. He can get the orchestra to deliver their best, unique qualities. Moreover, the concert hall in the Rudolfinum helps the music to a clear sound, softness and fullness.

After the piece literally died out following the tones of the “heavenly harp”, the audience remained quiet and motionless for a long time. Rousing standing ovations followed. Time did not matter during this concert

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20th August 2020

Klassika Plus

Lukáš Červený

The special Czech Philharmonic concert on 20th August was truly exceptional. In full strength, the orchestra performed Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with its Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov. Brilliant Chen Reiss sang the soprano solo. New concertmaster Jan Fišer made his debut in the first chair a month earlier that had been planned. The audience, attending in greater numbers again, was entranced by the performers and above all their excellent performance.

The concert was obviously very popular. I dare say that the capacity, now limited to 500 people with face masks, was undoubtedly reached. The mighty applause welcoming the home orchestra and the conductor in particular illustrated the overall joy from returning to the concert hall. The musician served a tasty and juicy portion of music to the excited audience. Rather than striving to offer an absolute musical experience, this particular symphony tells a story; or it provokes the audience to use their imagination while listening. The first movement could be perceived as an imaginary key opening the composition’s gates.

The orchestra entered Mahler’s world impeccably. Their coordination, interaction between the musicians and the conductor, crystal clear intonation and the overall atmosphere were unique. The piercing motif of the flute, jingle bells and later the French horn alternated with carefully structured tutti and solo themes. Oboist Jana Brožková stood out in particular. The trombones and tuba are not used in the instrumentation but this does not take away from the mightiness of the orchestral sound. If anyone ever managed to instantly press five hundred people into their seats, Mahler certainly did through this performance. A lady in the audience amused everybody when she eased the tension with an enthusiastic applause after the opening movement.

Following the last tones of the harp at the end of the last movement, the audience rewarded the musicians with an undying applause lasting several minutes during which the conductor singled out all the soloists and the sections. They deserved it, they did an amazing job. Maybe the excitement was even greater as this was the first proper symphonic evening in the Rudolfinum after a long time (though with the extra face masks) but there is no doubt that we do not have to spare praise in the case of this concert.

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20th August 2020

El País interview

El País’s Jesús Ruiz Mantilla recently caught up with Maestro Bychkov while he was in Spain preparing to perform works by Beethoven with the Euskadiko Orkestra. Read the full interview here via The Semyon Sessions section of this website:

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13th August 2020

Darío Fernández Ruiz

The second symphonic engagement of the Santander International Festival came four days after the opening of the Festival when the Euskadiko Orkestra filled the stage of the Sala Argenta of the Palace of Festivals to offer a more than good concert dedicated to Beethoven under the baton of Semyon ‘Patxi’ Bychkov. I’ve allowed myself the affectionate and ‘euskaldun’ nickname in view of the evident complicity between conductor and orchestra, and the affection and recognition that his musicians gave him at the end of an evening that we would have liked to have lasted a bit longer: the Coriolan Overture and that absolute masterpiece that is Symphony No. 3 Eroica.

Surely the enthusiastic applause deserved an encore that would have allowed the audience to enjoy a little more of that potent inspiration and that round, powerful, polished sound that we so often associate with the genius of Bonn and that Bychkov knew how to extract from his unconditional hosts. Be that as it may, the first bars of the Coriolan Overture already alerted us of the drive and energy of the celebrated conductor and the rich textures that would characterize, from a strictly tonal perspective, his vision of such famous scores.

As is customary for him, Bychkov expended energy and a communicative power that reached the listener with both forcefulness and subtlety. Although we sometimes missed differentiation between woodwinds and brass here or more forceful double basses there, Bychkov’s tempi and overwhelming rhythmic vitality, his dynamics and, especially the indomitable and triumphant bravery that shook the audience in the outer movements of the Eroica were totally convincing. The indisputable quality and discipline of an orchestra that was seduced and completely surrendered to Bychkov’s baton did the rest.

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