28th November 2018
The Czech Philharmonic has had a new Chief Conductor since September: Semyon Bychkov, born in St. Petersburg in 1952, and most recently principal conductor of the WDR in Cologne, has already recorded two Tchaikovsky discs with the long-established Czech orchestra.
For the two performances – with very different programmes – at Vienna’s Musikverein, the Czech musicians did not yet present themselves as consistently as they had on these two recordings. The more interesting of the two programmes was on the first evening: Fišer’s entertaining double concerto for orchestra, inspired by baroque music and marching bands, Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto in A minor and, the best known Czech symphony, Dvořák’s New World. It was this work in particular that showed the Orchestra was still getting used to its new conductor‘s expansive gestures of pathos and strong accents. Similarly, in the Saint-Saëns, the different views of the technically flawless Gautier Capuçon, with his focus on lucid brilliance and Bychkov, who concentrates more on genuine sonorities, were unmistakable.
The two following evenings’ performances left a better impression: Mahler’s Second Symphony ‘Resurrection’. Of course there is still room for improvement but the lyrical string passages and the security of the interaction between the brass sections was very satisfying. Here, the musicians were clearly more convinced by Bychkov’s intentions than they had been in the first programme.
The two outer movements thrilled with passion, while the serenity of the second movement enabled one to hear the connection to Schubert. Equally, in the Scherzo, Bychkov was never carried away by superficial effects, but instead brought out the subtleties in the score.
In the final movement which veers between dramatic turbulence and thought-provoking mysticism the wonderfully rehearsed Viennese Singverein, the Orchestra and the exquisite soloists – Christine Karg and Elisabeth Kulman – achieved a perfectly balanced spontaneity under the direction of their conductor. The climax, however, was the “Urlicht”, articulated with great intimacy by Kulman and sensitively accompanied by the Orchestra. It will be remembered for a long time to come