16th January 2020
The rather traditional programme which centred round two classical works,won the audience over with its thoughtfulness and sophistication. Bychkov’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was the climax of the evening. I am delighted to say that the Czech Philharmonic’s sound is changing gradually from the traditionally smooth and soft tonality for which it has been known – despite the fact that there have been weaker years when this was not really the case. More distinct colours are beginning to emerge, the overall sound is fresher, and its sound world is more distinct. Have the musicians been inspired by the sounds that we are used to hearing from some of the German, Dutch and Belgium ensembles? Placing the first violins on the left and the second violins on the right surely also played its part in strengthening the colour palate and giving a feeling of spaciousness…. The sound of the Orchestra reminded me of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Paavo Järvi although without its ambitions of authenticity. No matter the roots of this change, it is definitely positive. The colourful richness of the Czech Philharmonic’s current sound evokes analogies with the visual arts: as if Corot, Monet or Pissaro’s gentle brush strokes were taken over by the tougher hand and palette of Matisse, Kirchner, Beckmann or Kandinsky…
The performance of Rendering was not just a routine one to introduce a piece that was rarely played piece, but was a proper concert performance. Bychkov presented a well-balanced cocktail of Mediterranean and Schubertian ingredients and served it with style. The southern and northern aspects of the Alps shook hands with great internal harmony.
I said recently that whenever I hear one of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, I get concerned. Based on local Beethoven performance tradition, I have become sceptical about the possibility of enriching Beethoven’s canon and feel that there is nothing that can be meaningfully added to the great performances by Furtwängler, Karajan, Abbado and Haitink. Moreover, it is hard to come anywhere close. This time, my concerns proved unfounded. The performance of the Czech Philharmonic on 15 March showed yet again that the quality of the Orchestra is far ahead of the other Prague orchestras and in recent years the difference appears even greater. I have heard Beethoven Symphony No. 7 in the Rudolfinum far too often but yesterday for the first time I heard it on a level which would stand the test of European criteria. I am not talking about some new-fangled approach but more about the pacing and the temperament of the sound, full of energy and joy from playing music which was truly captivating.