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15th September 2019

Opera Plus

Anna Šerých

The fluffiness and smoothness of the string sections once again confirmed the famous and exclusive song-like quality of the Czech Philharmonic strings. The well-known piano cantilena and singing melody of the winds, the parts in which mainly the cellos offered warmth and a touch of Viennese waltz as well as the again capturing cadences with a reminder of the opening melody marked the interpretation very vividly. The temperament of the third movement Allegro vivo with the final majestic joined hymn of the piano and the orchestra was from the very beginning full of brisk energy, almost on the verge of feasibility, the whirl and momentum which only excellent players with champion-like determination can create. There was spontaneous exultation from the audience… The musical partnership of the orchestra and conductor produced the best results revealing their full passion for Tchaikovsky’s work.”

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14th September 2019

iDnes

Věra Drápelová

After the unconvincing opening week of this year’s Dvořák Prague International Music Festival, audiences got the bitter taste out of their mouths with concerts from the Essen Philharmonie and Czech Philharmonic who offered the level of music playing one usually expects from this festival…

 After that, the Czech Philharmonic with its Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov played their first festival concert. The programme was based on the recently finished recordings of pieces by Tchaikovsky, who actually was a friend of Dvořák’s. The Piano Concerto No. 1 belongs to the list of all-time most notorious classical pieces. Its striking opening even surpasses the borders of classical music. Soloist Kirill Gerstein promotes the original “modest” version of the First Piano Concerto, although the piece was performed here in its full glory – even though not in the way it often is. Bychkov definitely did not give the “fire” command, the orchestra did not launch a cannonade and the soloist did not begin to show off rumbling chords and physical endurance. Instead of a military parade, music was being created, obviously perfect but without opulence, with honesty and musicians listening to each other…

 The Czech Philharmonic and Bychkov gave one of their best joint performances yet [in the Manfred Symphony]. It was full of acoustic beauty, smoothness and spark when all of the instrumental groups literally competed with each other in their qualities, while still forming a perfectly interconnected whole. At the same time, every phrase was intense and deep. Romantism with its pathos can sometimes be viewed as shallow and showy but in this case, it was what it is meant to be – a human emotion.

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14th September 2019

Klasika Plus

Lucie Maloveská

The Tchaikovsky – Bychkov – Czech Philharmonic link was the centre of attention of the evening. This is because the first Czech orchestra with its Chief Conductor has already managed to become an exceptionally knowledgeable interpreter of this Russian giant’s music. The power of this trio was then multiplied by the choice of the Manfred Symphony which meant that in the second half, I gained another piece for my exceptional musical experiences collection…

The composer narrates the story of Manfred’s journey, originally by Lord Byron, in four parts, thus deviating from the traditional symphonic scheme only in some aspects. On top of that, Tchaikovsky’s style is not descriptive and even though the symphony has a clear programme, the music also has its own value independent of that. In my view, this is what the Philharmonic players and Bychkov managed to capture brilliantly. Already in the opening Lento Lugubre, they showcased astonishing full sound, drama, and a clear vision of the story as a whole. The Czech Philharmonic’s interpretation offered more lyricism, broader melodies and a simple, almost rural character in the two middle parts, for which Tchaikovsky chose Manfred’s encounter with the Alpine fairy and the images from the life in the mountains. The wind section created some remarkable moments, such as the oboe solo from the beginning of the third movement. The uncompromisingly suggestive, expressive but still tasteful Allegro con fuoco brought the concert to a thrilling end. Such a colourful and balanced sound of the orchestral tutti, during which I felt like the fortes were getting under my skin, is not very common.

I once read somewhere that you know an extraordinary concert performance by the silence that follows the final notes.  For a good few seconds following the last notes of Manfred on Friday, you could cut the silence with a knife.“

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13th September 2019

Scherzo

Rafael Ortega Basagoiti

The programme for the 69th concert of this year’s Proms was the Overture and Three Dances from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride followed by the Letter Scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with the second part devoted to Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony . The Czech Philharmonic was on splendid form and the relationship with its new Music Director appeared to work like a charm. The acoustics of Albert Hall are well known to be treacherous, but Bychkov and the Orchestra worked wonders with orchestral balance and clarity, without losing an iota of nerve and enthusiasm.

The Smetana selection had nerve and enthusiasm in abundance. In the Overture, the flexible articulation in the strings was perfect with a beautiful edge to the wood. The subsequent polka was magnificent with an effective and elegant rubato, a contagious rhythmic impulse for the Furiant and a thrilling final dance. Smetana’s works were contagious and came across with joyful enthusiasm. If it was difficult to get the balance in the acoustics for Smetana, it was even more so for the scene with Tatiana (known as the Letter Scene ) from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. I had not heard the Russian soprano Elena Stikhina before. I was impressed by her beautiful, warm voice, which projected well throughout her journey, and drew expressively on the unique mixture of lyricism and drama in the scene. She was splendidly accompanied by Bychkov and the Czech musicians, with a special mention for the strings and the oboe, clarinet and horn soloists.

However, the focus of the evening fell inevitably on the devastating score that is Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8. Composed at the height of the Nazi invasion of Russia, the composer declared to Volkov in his  controversial book Testimony that “the war brought much new pain and destruction, but I have not forgotten the terrible years before the war; that’s what all my symphonies are about since the fourth, including the seventh and the eighth. ” And, reaffirming what he said before, “… and then all the misery was attributed to the war, as if only during the war people had been tortured and killed.” The eighth is, of course, a sombre, deeply tragic score and torn in the pain of the long first movement. Even though the climax is expected, when it comes it is overwhelming, even more so when it is performed with the intensity which Bychkov drew from the Czech Philharmonic.

The subsequent English horn solo (a sensational instrumentalist, by the way) was creepy and devastating. The Allegretto was bitterly incisive, with outstanding playing from the winds, especially the piccolo, bassoon and clarinet solos. Bychkov’s conducting of the third movement was extraordinary, with the magnificent violas sounding oppressive and obsessive with a graduated dynamic which the famous Russian maestro built to a tremendous climax moving to an ominous and bitter sadness, and the hopelessness of  the Largo (the tuba here was also outstanding). There are those who see hope in recent times, particularly in the transition to the major key. Personally, I believe that it is fading, and behind the long notes of the flute and the strings is a drowned and sadly resigned anguish hidden behind a veil of false calm. Perhaps, deep down, Shostakovich is expressing in that peculiar way of his, a message that seems to tell us “beware, we are coming out of one horror, but another will remain…”. Throughout this long, intense and devastating journey, Bychkov and his magnificent orchestra took us on an experience as perfectly constructed in the music as it was intense and devastating to the emotions. After the pauses between the first and second movements, the public had applauded.  Following the final Allegretto, Bychkov was concentrated and there was a sepulchral silence in the Albert Hall. Only, many seconds later, when he dropped his arms, came the ovation that justly rewarded his formidable interpretation.

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