News & Reviews: Review

February 2019


15th February 2019

Aleš Bluma

Kirill Gerstein, a versatile pianist who is not afraid to play jazz, romantic and contemporary music was a guest of the Czech Philharmonic’s subscription concert on February 13th.  The Czech Philharmonic has a personal bond with Kirill Gerstein.  He has been giving concerts in Prague with the director of the Orchestra, David Maracek, for years.  He was in the first half of the concert;  the second half was a performance of Schubert’s Symphony in C major “The Great” given by the Orchestra under Semyon Bychkov.  The first half of the evening showed the skills of the pianist and principals of the Czech Philharmonic, the second half the ever-developing qualities of our Chief Conductor.


Inspired by the great pianist Jan Heřman,  Leoš Janáček wrote his Concertino for piano and chamber orchestra… a very unconventional sextet – two violins, a violin, a horn, a clarinet and a bassoon.  The entire composition is based on the dialogue between the piano and the individual instruments and requires extraordinary concentration from the artists.  Kirill Gerstein was completely relaxed, even in the virtuoso passages of the third movement which was excellent…


What a strange thing popularity is.  Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is possibly the most performed piano concerto ever; his Piano Concerto is seldom played although it deserves to be better known; and the fact that there is a third piano concerto is something that only a few musicologists are aware of.  True that this concerto is in fact only a skeleton, with only the first movement completed before he died, and we will never know whether that was intentional or due to lack of time.


Semyon Bychkov is one of the greatest conductors of Tchaikovsky’s music and it is not accident that he was chosen by Decca, the well-known British record company, to record the complete works with the Czech Philharmonic.  Consequently, this performance of the Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat major with Kirill Gerstein was recorded.   It was a huge undertaking for both soloist and Orchestra, and the Orchestra rose to the occasion.  Gerstein displayed a brilliant technique, his piano stormed and was tenderly silenced, his cadenza was top-notch.  The performance was perfect. The sound of the orchestra was beautiful, rounded, steady and robust.  It was beautiful Tchaikovsky, and it would be good if this Decca recording brings this neglected piano concerto greater attention.


Franz Schubert’s “Great”. Symphony No. 9 in C major is one hour long and the audience would have been happy if it went on even longer.  There is so much beauty in it, so much beauty is there.  Semyon Bychkov must love this symphony. His economical gestures gave the work space.


The Czech Philharmonic are very lucky to have persuaded Bychkov to succeed Jiří Bělohlávek.  He and the Orchestra understand each other perfectly, and pulls excellent performances from every section of the Orchestra.  The flute, oboe and clarinet solos in the first movement, alongside the trio of trombones in the second movement should get the most credit; the strings shone as they passed from pianissimo to forte, and the oboe solos were excellent.  One should also mention the two horn players.  No wonder that Semyon Bychkov gave his bouquets to them.


Schubert’s symphony is a truly magnificent and wonderful work, which makes huge demands on both the performers and the conductor. That the audience was satisfied with the performance was shown with 15-minutes of applause culminating in the packed Rudolfinum giving a standing ovation.