WAGNER Die Walküre
Dresden Semper Oper (November 2001)
Hugh Canning reported last month on Das Rheingold, the first instalment of the Semperoper's new Ring cycle, which opened at the end of September. Die Walküre followed swiftly (first night, November 11), and I agree with Canning wholeheartedly that the main glory of the enterprise so far must be truly miraculous playing of the Staatskapelle under Semyon Bychkov. This orchestra's sound has to be unique-the total clarity, the absence of any 'fuzz', the virtuoso playing in all departments, the meticulously controlled balance between them. Add the perfect balance achieved by Bychkov between pit and stage and this, together with the theatre's equally miraculous acoustics, meant that words were as clear as notes, an especial pleasure at a time when words in opera are being downgraded world-wide (guess why).
Opera, February 02
Semyon Bychkov and the Staatskapelle shaped the music tightly, driving it forward and carrying the singers, but also finding the balance between lyrical intimacy and dynamically explosive climates.
Alexander Keuk, November 01
A blond pine dream stuffed with insights
Bychkov's reading of the score was crammed with fresh, provocative insights, from his uncommonly violent storm Prelude through the fraught dialogues of Acts Two and Three, and the Dresden Staatskapelle orchestra did him proud. I know that he embraces current thinking about Wagner's (and Strauss's) tempi, which is that they have grown unconscionably slower and slower this century, so it was surprising to hear him taking Act Two so deliberately - with some risky hiatuses, I thought, though he preserved the inexorable continuity of Act Three to gripping effect.
Global FT, November 01
A talk with a leading figure in the arts world …
the most exciting thing was the way it sounded. Chief conductor Semyon Bychkov brought a startling new transparency to Wagner's weighty score, drawing soft and clear sounds from the Dresden Staatskapelle orchestra, heightening the tension to breaking point and unleashing moments of terrifying fury.
The Wall Street Journal, November 01
Semyon Bychkov's performance was striking for two entirely opposite characteristics. First, and most astonishing, were the unusually broad tempos in the First Act. This brought benefits across the board. The scenes between Siegmund and Sieglinde were invested with especial intensity. The orchestra was able to realise many of its famous qualities to the full. There were those unbelievable supple cantilenas in the strings, a dreamlike solo cello (Peter Bruns) and wonderfully soft horns, to name only a few examples. The middle and the most musically impressive moments of the evening came with the Second Act. The Siegmund-Sieglinde scene 'Raste nun hier; gönne dir Ruhe' and the announcement of death referred to earlier should be mentioned here. The public thanked the stage direction with a few isolated boos and, cheered the singers, conductor and orchestra unmistakably the 'most musical' part of Wagner's 'Ring', the new Dresden 'Walküre' should be able to provide an acoustic feast for many in the days ahead.
Dresdener Neueste Nachrichten , November 01
A well-plumbed and magnificently interpreted 'Walküre' gradually gives 'Ring' form.
From the first sound the Staatskapelle under Semyon Bychkov sounded as if it had been completely replaced since Das Rheingold. The thunder of the Prelude is a masterpiece of balance between the roaring elements and their disciplined artistic expression. And this was the very approach that was pursued……. Ovations, by contrast, for the singers and the Saxon Staatskapelle under Semyon Bychkov.
Sächsische Zeitung, November 01
Under the baton of Semyon Bychkov this 'Walküre' was above all a musical triumph. The Staatskapelle plumbed the depths and the drama of the material to the very last detail, with the added power of a magnificent ensemble of singers.
Morgenpost, November 01
WAGNER Das Rheingold
Dresden Semper Oper (October 2001)
Bychkov and the Staatskapelle did full justice to Wagner's Vorabend: the Russian born-maestro opts for unfashionably swift tempos, but his sense of the music's momentum and structure is assured and he builds to shattering climaxes in the Descent to Nibelheim, Alberich's Curse and Wotans's moment of truth before Erda arrives to deliver her warning.
Opera, October 01
But the C-E flat was sounded by an orchestra under Semyon Bychkov, under whose direction the delicacy of Wagner's chamber music and of the smallest transitions took on a beautiful, transparent sound, which also gave meaning to the hollow, suitably frightening and threatening D flat major gesture of the closing music of Wotan. Thus the 'preliminary evening' was also an orchestral accomplishment, in which dream and theatre find a unity that is full of suspense.
Junge Freiheit, October 01
Semyon Bychkov indicates here that Fasolt, the lover, can also be heard in the music. And he attends to these passages with especial sensitivity, as indeed to the softer sounds of the score in general. The way in which he phrases the accompaniment to Wotan's cantilena in Walhall wohne mit mir is without parallel, and it comes as no surprise with this musician that the lesser notes in the course of the Prelude, such as the dramatic crescendo after the theft of the gold, draw such temperament from him. As an opera conductor he is always in tune with the stage.
Der Tagespiegel, October 01
Enormous applause at the end for the very promising ensemble performance with Semyon Bychkov on the podium, who took considerable care of the lyrical passages as well as the thunderous effects of the masterpiece of Wagner, his predecessor in that office.
Hessische Allgemeine, October 01
Semyon Bychkov plays Decker's game and draws rattling and creaking sounds from the Saxon Staatskapelle whenever the dwarf Alberich sprays his poison. Since the Staatskapelle normally plays in such a supple and smooth manner, it comes as a very beautiful, very shrill, very disturbing contrast. Bychkov takes Wagner's sound by the flanks: he brackets double basses and brass together, often so forcefully that the violins can only fill out the texture that they used to dominate. In the movement of the waves, as Frau Cosima noted in her dairy, Richard Wagner saw the lullaby of the world. But Semyon Bychkov doesn't simply conduct the waves of the Rhine, he makes the riverbed audible. With his orchestra, and especially with the way he deploys it, Semyon Bychkov succeeds in creating a work of art that is greater, and more difficult, than forging a magic ring from the Rheingold: he cuts delicate jewels from Wagner's heavy cloth, he creates a veil-like transparency, he achieves a miracle of intelligibility.
Financial Times, October 01
The art of Semyon Bychkov, who is also chief conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra, is delicate, thoughtful of the singers, concerned to produce a sound of breathing transparency. He keeps the full magnificence of the Staatskapelle in the pit back until the interludes and the splendour of the finale - an enormous promise which is also something of an achievement.
Kölner Rundschau, October 01
Semyon Bychkov and Willy Decker present Das Rheingold in Dresden as Threepenny Opera and Popular Theatre Semyon Bychkov, the conductor of this Dresden Ring, doesn't think of blunting the edge of the magical sound from the hidden, Bayreuth-style pit. Bychkov's notion of the score of Das Rheingold is one of an open, light sound and razor-sharp contrapuntal precision, with which the members of the orchestra do not rise and sink in the mystical whole but can also show what they are capable of. It is, if you will, a view of Wagner through Shostakovich's glasses, full of exacting energy, full of brio. A Wagner which is never content with standing still but pays close attention to the plot; a Wagner without secrets but full of modern irony and tonal detail.
Süddeutsche Zeitung, October 01
Semyon Bychkov throttles back the Staatskapelle quite wonderfully and the musicians live up to the name of Wagner's magic harp.
Die Welt, October 01
Semyon Bychkov with the Staatskapelle was especially impressive because of his talent for thrilling development, soaring emotional sweep, gripping concentration and explosive sound. His Wagner derives its considerable intensity from its living, breathing phrases and dynamic gradations of shade.
Frankfurter Allgemeine, October 01
It certainly wasn't originally planned as a farewell presentation: the first integral performance of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung at the Semper Opera in Dresden since the War. For some years now Christoph Albrecht, the imaginative and go-getting Intendant of the flagship of Saxon theatre, has been working towards the mighty efforts required and activating sponsors and finally found himself on the best of terms with the acting head of music, Semyon Bychkov, promised a fresh approach to the most important operatic work of the nineteenth century, one which frequently comes laden with pre-conceived ideas. The Staatskapelle in particular - which Wagner once described as a magic harp - seemed downright eager to embrace the Ring after almost sixty years of deprivation. And this elite among orchestras succeeded on almost every count, from the blissful song of the horns over the velvet fundament of the double-basses, via the innumerable enchanting woodwind solos, to the precise string accompaniment in the declamatory passages. And the success was of a particular, individual sort. For Bychkov is careful not to let the magical sound from the hidden, Bayreuth-style pit lose its focus. His idea of the score of The Rheingold is of an open, bright sound and razor-sharp counterpoint. It's a Wagner seen through the eyes of Shostakovich. A Wagner full of energy and brio, which is never satisfied with standing still but follows the twists and turns of the plot with detailed commentary.
Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, October 01