News & Reviews: Review

November 2019

Le blog de andika

24th November 2019


Semyon Bychkov and his Czech Philharmonic began a weekend dedicated to Tchaikovsky at the Philharmonie de Paris. For the first evening, Friday November 22, they were joined by pianist Kirill Gerstein for a performance of the illustrious composer’s famous Piano Concerto No. 1, in its little-known version dated 1879. Then in the second part, nothing less than the all-too-rarely performed Manfred Symphony…

Kirill Gerstein’s piano sparkled and coloured every movement, here and there in the first movement Allegro non troppo and molto maestoso embellishing the sounds of the orchestra. Leading the Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov provided excellent accompaniment with exemplary phrasing, forthright attacks and great attention to nuance. The Andantino semplice was a moment of pure grace, which was barely affected by the symphony of coughs that came from the stalls. The chamber-like harmonies of the Czech orchestra were notably highlighted by the interaction between solo oboe and the pianist who excelled in alternating dialogues with different instruments. One has the strange feeling that he can do whatever he wants with his keyboard, including making it dance. The third movement was full of surprises, especially with the addition of a passage in the development of the first theme that was cut in the 1894 version! The tempo taken by the pianist was vigorous, allowing one to fully feel the pulsation and exquisite rhythms that Tchaikovsky composed. Semyon Bychkov’s response to the soloist was thrilling. The textures and details that he elicited from the Orchestra achieved a finale of great elegance with the full measure of the strings creating an impressive density. After a well-deserved ovation, Kirill Gerstein reaffirmed all the positive thoughts of him by offering a sublime encore – Rachmaninov’s Melody, Op. 3…

The crash of percussion represented the hero’s confusion. The only relief was in Astrée’s lighter theme. The second movement was like quicksilver. Taken at quite a fast pace, it brimmed with virtuosity and colours, with a harmony standing out here and a truculent piccolo there. The conductor created an atmosphere of tranquillity, highlighting all the colours that are contained within the score, notably through instruments such as harps and timpani. The whole movement is one coherent arch in which the tension never drops. Only the return of Manfred’s theme darkened the mood as the sound of the strings faded away in a moment of real magic. The third movement followed with an Andante that was a moment of great tranquillity, pastoral and contemplative. The conductor put down his baton. An atmosphere of peace permeated the Philharmonie, occasionally broken by the sound of an instrumentalist entering at the back to ring bells. But, the return of Manfred’s theme to the trombones further thwarted the lull. The agitation resumed in the last movement marked Allegro con fuoco. A veritable cavalcade of strings unfolded. The fracas of percussion resumed and Bychkov unleashed the entire force of his Orchestra, especially in the masterly fugue. Manfred, the story of a thousand torments that translates into as many sounds and notes as can be created from a multitude of instruments (including an organ, which blended beautifully with the Orchestra). An epic fragrance and a tragic moment, it is not possible for Manfred to leave one indifferent. Even less so when the Orchestra sounds like this: harsh and corrosive while melodious and supple when required. And Manfred leaves us all the less indifferent when led by a conductor with so much experience in this repertoire. Semyon Bychkov was clearly in his comfort zone, but this does not diminish his undeniable quality as a musician and conductor: his precise gestures, clear intentions and unfailing accuracy. Especially in this arrangement of the Orchestra with the double basses at the back, facing the conductor. The Philharmonie audience were not wrong to give a lengthy standing ovation to conductor and Orchestra at the end of the concert. A conductor with who has an old acquaintance with the Parisian public since he conducted the Orchestre de Paris between 1989 and 1998. After that, there is nothing left to say other than that The Tchaikovsky Project is a huge success. I can’t wait for the rest!