19th November 2020
Interpretations of Má vlast have a tendency to attract a lot of attention. The opening concerts of the Prague Spring Festival, where the piece is traditionally performed, are always much anticipated and generate much discussion. More than for any other composition, exceptional performances of Má vlast are frequently remembered. Among two performances most often mentioned are Talich’s performance from 1939, which sparked such a lively reaction that Tábor and Blaník were banned for the remaining years of the protectorate, and the legendary 1990 performance conducted by Kubelík. The Czech Philharmonic is seen as a guarantee of matchless interpretation and style – if not its musicians, who else should have this music in their blood? Despite being distanced for this performance, the Orchestra managed to convey the strength and magnificence of the composition in its entirety. At the same time, Semyon Bychkov took full advantage of the monumental scale of the work, exposing both its textures and its transparency and building on the quality of the Philharmonic’s musicians.
The work opened convincingly with the poetic harp entrance at the beginning of Vyšehrad played by Barbara Pazourová and Jana Boušková. Just as its title suggests, the first symphonic poem was very noble. The carefully structured interpretation and flawless coordination drew attention to the colourful instrumental combinations. From my point of view, the second poem, the popular Vltava, probably brought the most inventive details, such as in the handling of phrasing. Bychkov conducted the poem with elegance and attention to detail, equally reflected in the way he built the melodic line. Šárka was etched very suggestively. The clearly epic character of the poem was perfectly captured by the Czech Philharmonic and the clarity of the symbols, such as Šárka’s clarinet motif played by Tomáš Kopáček, resonated. Despite the pace in the depiction of the relentless attack, the entire Orchestra showed tremendous accuracy and discipline in its articulation.
28th September 2020
Despite safety measures imposing restrictions, exciting classical concerts are possible. Conductor Semyon Bychkov made that clear in his guest appearance with the Czech Philharmonic at the Konzerthaus in Vienna.
He came with first class soloists, the pianist Daniil Trifonov and the trumpeter Selina Ott, and a programme that could be repeated. Due to limited number of visiting orchestras, many concerts will be given without an interval and performed twice. In Shostakovich’s Concerto for Piano,Trumpet and String Orchestra in C minor, Op. 35 – Bychkov provided the soloists with an ideal soundscape leaving the pianist at the centre of power. Trifonov was breathtakingly brilliant displaying fireworks of furious virtuosity in the fast passages, which were elicited from the Bösendorfer in an oscillating play of sound colours – bursting in the trills and runs – while alternating between cheerfulness and melancholy in the duet with the Austrian trumpeter Ott whose shining intonation won her the prestigious ARD Competition in 2018 when she was 20 years old. The way in which Shostakovich quoted a popular tune was mischievously audible, and Trifonov responded to Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic with rugged chords and rapid glissandi. The soloists said goodbye with a transcription of Rachmaninov songs performed as an encore.
In Dvořák‘s 8th Symphony, Bychkov let us hear what the term “authentic” really means. For the last two years he has been Chief Conductor of this traditional ensemble and it is an ideal partnership. Playing the music of their compatriot, he let the rough sound of the strings give way to a softer sound in the manner of Tchaikovsky, full of ‘esprit’ in the catchy main theme. The applause was fulsome.
28th September 2020
Guest concerts of visiting orchestras are a difficult matter in times of Corona. Many of those from overseas orchestras do not take place; some are cancelled at short notice due to travel restrictions; some
such as the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Orchestra dell ‘Accademia Nationale di Santa Cecilia from Rome and the SWR Symphony Orchestra travelled in the second half of September but surprisingly
not to Vienna.
The Czech Philharmonic however made it to Vienna. The Orchestra travelled from the risk area of Prague (denoted by the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to the risk area of Vienna (German Ministry of Foreign Affairs) so that on Friday they were both at risk in the Konzerthaus. What were the Czechs and their Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov carrying in their luggage? Dvořák naturally -the Eighth Symphony – and Shostakovich’s Concerto for piano, trumpet and strings op. 35. The soloists in the latter work were no less than Daniil Trifonov and Selina Ott, the young trumpeter who won the 2018 ARD competition.
Shostakovich’s 1933 work is full of irony and grotesquerie, many hear in the opening a quote from Beethoven’s Appassionata and perform it as a parody of a classical concerto. Not so DaniilTrifonov. His (incredibly subtle and virtuosic) interpretation was completely serious; the musician a model of a precision machine. Lang Lang would have been more showy and clown-like – a shot at a poor version of Hella von Sinnen would have gone down well here. Selina Ott also proved herself to be obediently at the service of interpretive solidity.
Dvořák’s Eighth was pure pleasure. Bychkov showed himself to be a kind and open-hearted all-rounder, caresser of the soul and creator of dreams. The Czech Philharmonic blossomed under his expert leadership as did the hearts of the audience.
25th September 2020
What about Dvořák’s Eight? It found a big competitor in Shostakovich this time. The Orchestra have the 1889 symphony under their skin. There are great musicians among them and the groups communicate with each other with animation. Besides the well-played French horn and flute solos, the lower strings also stood out…
The Czech Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov’s reading of the score was straightforward and spontaneous, he was not afraid of big emotions. His romanticising approach was also quite fitting, as we remember experiments with historically informed performances of late Romantic music