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6th September 2020

Opera Plus

Agata Pilatova

The Czech Philharmonic’s interpretation did not miss any detail that the composer had invested in his compositions; in fact, they enriched and multiplied the works with their unique artistic approach. This applies equally to orchestra, conductor and soloist.

Václav Petr obviously has a personal emotional relationship to the Cello Concerto and it shows in his interpretation. He can fully live out the piece while finding his own way of expressing the emotional messages which the composer put in the music. We can feel his humility for the composer whose ideas and emotions (alongside his own) he communicated to the audience convincingly. His performance had inner poetry, somehow bringing peace and quiet into the listeners’ hearts through the gloomy tones. With his dynamics and tempo, he allowed the audience to enjoy the soft echo of every single note. At the same time, it is clear that Petr enjoyed the piece. The concert master’s coordination with the orchestra and the conductor is also remarkable. The part with the cellist and the first violinist in the third movement was apparently a joy not only for the listeners but also for the performers. Their coordination and harmony was admirable. We should not forget that the concerto is very physically demanding for the soloist. All in all: we heard Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in a brilliant interpretation from both the soloists and the orchestra.

This is also true for the performance of the New World Symphony. Semyon Bychkov has surely had enough time to truly adapt to the Czech Philharmonic, but his remarkable feeling for and interpretation of Czech music is worth acknowledging. His reading of the piece seems to be “our” reading as well, thanks to which we find new colours in the tones we have heard a hundred times before. Bychkov captures complex units as well as single nuances, temperament, joyful happiness and emotional depth. His own input centres around humble admiration for the composer combined with Bychkov’s ability to relay his stories. The significantly slower tempo allowed the individual parts of the piece to somehow “linger in the air” (and in the listeners’ minds) for a little bit longer and die away very slowly. Bychkov’s sweeping and romantic interpretation definitely does not go against the composer. All sections of the orchestra were worthy partners for the conductor, from the famous Largo with the cor anglais solo to every other section of the orchestra.

The Czech Philharmonic played with ease and joy, may be the musicians also appreciated the Rudolfinum’s nearly full auditorium

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5th September 2020

Ivan Ruml

Seeing this programme, someone who frequently attends concert halls either senses suffering and festive boredom or an extraordinary experience. The latter was the case of Friday evening.

Semyon Bychkov is a great conductor who can satisfy the soloists and give them space but at the same time discovers new unforeseen details in a well-known symphonic piece for the audience. The interpretation of Dvořák’s New World in Brahmsian fashion proved this with the carefully controlled dynamics, like painting a monumental image not only in the final movement but also in the contrasting playful Scherzo and the dreamy second movement which brings out Dvořák’s feeling of homesickness.

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5th September 2020

Klassika Plus

Petr Veber

The Czech Philharmonic opened the Dvořák Prague International Music Festival in the Rudolfinum in a way which was nowhere close to routine. The composer’s two best known and most famous concert compositions, the New World Symphony and the Concerto in B Minor, might tempt the performers to take it easy.  But Semyon Bychkov examined the score in detail and Václav Petr endowed the Cello Concerto many unusual and beautiful qualities.

Semyon Bychkov narrates Dvořák’s music. He conducts and structures it in a way that suggests that there is always something going on, the tones are talking to each other, sighing. His interpretation is romantic and shows that Dvořák was European as well as being a Czech, living and composing in the same period as Tchaikovsky. He pays attention to detail when working on the dynamics and tempos, the stream of music is textured in larger units, flowing undisturbed. He divides the individual parts, allowing them to quieten down and the orchestra to breathe before the next one. Every musical moment had its context, meaning and point. It sometimes sounded so epic that it reminded us of an opera without singing, most of the time it felt like listening to a symphonic poem. It was a pity that the civil pauses between movements (even in places where the music usually continues straight away) meant that the atmosphere faded away.

Václav Petr started the Concerto in B Minor very, very slowly and quietly, often returning to this mood during the piece and finishing in a similar fashion. His approach was poetic, humble, song-like, quiet, soft and calm. The orchestra was also uncommonly quiet with beautiful wind instrument solos and interplay with the soloist and concert master in the third movement. Towards the end, there is a long song-like intermezzo, which is known to be a memory of Josefina, Dvořák’s first love who had recently passed away. This time, her portrait was especially moving. The soloist later avoided the often pointlessly rhapsodic amplification of his part in the last bars. We have not heard such interpretation of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto – so lyrical and soft but resonant – for a long time.

The New World Symphony offered many magical moments, it sounded neither vacant nor opulent, was full of musicality with carefully planned structure, always new and changing, playful, and performed with both joy and mastery. The Chief Conductor chose a slightly faster tempo in Largo with the cor anglais solo, but went for some rather unusual diminuendos in other parts and movements. He also highlighted the lyrical pause before the end of the final movement, which the composer timed perfectly, reminding one of the Concerto in B Minor or Smetana’s symphonic poem Blaník… The conductor apparently worked on his interpretation righteously and with humbleness, showing he doesn’t take Czech music lightly.

The Dvořák Prague International Music Festival in the Dvořák Hall could not begin without Dvořák’s music. Luckily, the danger that an opening programme with two such well-known works might become a purely formal tribute to the genius, a mere social event, and in the worst case only a repetitive experience of something that had been heard a hundred times before, fell flat. The way in which the Philharmonic musicians, Václav Petr and Semyon Bychkov read, lived and presented the music (and this particular way only), makes full and absolute sense to repeat time-proven all-time favourites in concert.

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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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