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20th August 2020

Klassika Plus

Lukáš Červený

The special Czech Philharmonic concert on 20th August was truly exceptional. In full strength, the orchestra performed Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with its Chief Conductor Semyon Bychkov. Brilliant Chen Reiss sang the soprano solo. New concertmaster Jan Fišer made his debut in the first chair a month earlier that had been planned. The audience, attending in greater numbers again, was entranced by the performers and above all their excellent performance.

The concert was obviously very popular. I dare say that the capacity, now limited to 500 people with face masks, was undoubtedly reached. The mighty applause welcoming the home orchestra and the conductor in particular illustrated the overall joy from returning to the concert hall. The musician served a tasty and juicy portion of music to the excited audience. Rather than striving to offer an absolute musical experience, this particular symphony tells a story; or it provokes the audience to use their imagination while listening. The first movement could be perceived as an imaginary key opening the composition’s gates.

The orchestra entered Mahler’s world impeccably. Their coordination, interaction between the musicians and the conductor, crystal clear intonation and the overall atmosphere were unique. The piercing motif of the flute, jingle bells and later the French horn alternated with carefully structured tutti and solo themes. Oboist Jana Brožková stood out in particular. The trombones and tuba are not used in the instrumentation but this does not take away from the mightiness of the orchestral sound. If anyone ever managed to instantly press five hundred people into their seats, Mahler certainly did through this performance. A lady in the audience amused everybody when she eased the tension with an enthusiastic applause after the opening movement.

Following the last tones of the harp at the end of the last movement, the audience rewarded the musicians with an undying applause lasting several minutes during which the conductor singled out all the soloists and the sections. They deserved it, they did an amazing job. Maybe the excitement was even greater as this was the first proper symphonic evening in the Rudolfinum after a long time (though with the extra face masks) but there is no doubt that we do not have to spare praise in the case of this concert.

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13th August 2020

Ritmo.es

Darío Fernández Ruiz

The second symphonic engagement of the Santander International Festival came four days after the opening of the Festival when the Euskadiko Orkestra filled the stage of the Sala Argenta of the Palace of Festivals to offer a more than good concert dedicated to Beethoven under the baton of Semyon ‘Patxi’ Bychkov. I’ve allowed myself the affectionate and ‘euskaldun’ nickname in view of the evident complicity between conductor and orchestra, and the affection and recognition that his musicians gave him at the end of an evening that we would have liked to have lasted a bit longer: the Coriolan Overture and that absolute masterpiece that is Symphony No. 3 Eroica.

Surely the enthusiastic applause deserved an encore that would have allowed the audience to enjoy a little more of that potent inspiration and that round, powerful, polished sound that we so often associate with the genius of Bonn and that Bychkov knew how to extract from his unconditional hosts. Be that as it may, the first bars of the Coriolan Overture already alerted us of the drive and energy of the celebrated conductor and the rich textures that would characterize, from a strictly tonal perspective, his vision of such famous scores.

As is customary for him, Bychkov expended energy and a communicative power that reached the listener with both forcefulness and subtlety. Although we sometimes missed differentiation between woodwinds and brass here or more forceful double basses there, Bychkov’s tempi and overwhelming rhythmic vitality, his dynamics and, especially the indomitable and triumphant bravery that shook the audience in the outer movements of the Eroica were totally convincing. The indisputable quality and discipline of an orchestra that was seduced and completely surrendered to Bychkov’s baton did the rest.

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10th August 2020

The orchestra grew with the visit of an international star

Saturday’s concert had a history that had the best possible resolution. The internationally renowned conductor Semyon Bychkov was due to be a guest of the Musical Fortnight conducting the orchestra of which he has been Music Director since 2018, the Czech Philharmonic, one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious orchestras. Covid frustrated those plans, but it turns out that Bychkov, who is married to one of the Labèque sisters, spent lockdown on the Basque Coast and it was that proximity that enabled Musical Fortnight to forge a plan B: Bychkov’s invitation to come to Donostia was honored and instead he conducted the Euskadiko Orkestra, which for logistical reasons took over this symphonic engagement.

Consequently, over the past week the Euskadiko Orkestra has been working with one of the world’s star conductors. I was curious to hear the results and to see if our orchestra could reach the level of the Czech Philharmonic, the Cologne Radio Orchestra, the Paris Orchestra and other greats that Bychkov has conducted during his career. The Russian conductor did his bit to add to the intrigue with the headline he gave in an interview: “If the musicians can read my mind, we will make a good concert.”

Well, the performance of Euskadiko Orkestra on Saturday was exceptional. It may have taken a while to adjust to Bychkov’s edgy and dramatic conducting in Coriolan Overture, but in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony they responded with clarity, accuracy and a beautiful sound to an interpretation that was full of detail, complex sonorities, powerful tutti and drama. Woodwinds showed beautiful color in both their solos and ensemble, the horns were precise and musical, and the timbre of the strings had great volume and brilliance. Ultimately, the Orchestra proved to be a versatile and flexible instrument, at a level that only ten years ago seemed unimaginable, which is confirmation of the work done.

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10th August 2020

Platea

Enrique Bert

Taking a familiar path

I am not going to deny that in the midst of lockdown, amongst the thousand other uncertainties that were crowding into my head, one of them seemed the inevitability of San Sebastián’s Musical Fortnight being cancelled and the need to accept that this summer of 2020 we would lose the fortnight. We all have our special places in our musical hearts and this writer has to recognize that since the end of the 1980’s when he was forced to queue for twenty-four hours on the pavement outside the Victoria Eugenia Theatre – the Kursaal Palace did not exist then – to buy tickets for the San Sebastián Musical Fortnight, the Festival has been a highpoint of the summer.

It was difficult for me to imagine an August without music and it is only fair to start by thanking the organizers who made the Festival possible even if in a reduced format, engaging local artists and adapting the programming to the innumerable conditions that either exist and/or we have imposed on ourselves. Thus, the opera has disappeared (this year we were going to be treated to a production of Rigoletto, a concert performance of Amaya to mark the centenary of its première, and a concert performance of Act 3 of Die Walküre) as well as large symphonic concerts (where are you, Mahler?) with large choruses, and instead we have chamber music, and classical and early romantic symphonies.

We should add to this that the pandemic has not been able to cover the shadow cast by Ludwig van Beethoven, and here we have the ultimate reason why the first Kursaal concert was the one that concerns us: the regional symphony orchestra combined with the luxury of conductor, Semyon Bychkov who, thanks to lockdown is staying close to the Basque capital.

The Euskadiko Orkestra is on top form; without criticizing the work carried out by his predecessors, Robert Treviño’s directorship has endowed the orchestra with an obvious currency. If you add to this a conductor with a lot of character, you have a concert that while short, was full of energy, intensity and quality.

Bychkov highlighted the tempestuousness in the Coriolan Overture (1807) while never depriving the interpretation of a certain austerity. The highlight of the concert was Symphony No. 3 Eroica by the same composer in which the previously mentioned characteristics of the baton were even more evident. The story of the work is well-known with Beethoven’s initial dedication to Napoleon Bonaparte’s liberal ideals and the German’s subsequent disappointment when the once-liberal ended up proclaiming himself Emperor of France.

Beethoven’s Eroica is effectively the gateway to early romanticism superseding Haydn and Mozart’s classicism prevalent in musical Europe of the 18th century. Both the scale and approach of the symphony represent a break with the previous world and its subject, which was misunderstood at the time of its premiere, remains completely valid.

Considering all this, under the baton of such an interesting conductor, the result was likely to be the one that we heard in the Kursaal: with an audience that was not only there to reconnect with their festival and live classical music but who also understood that we had just experienced a performance that was full of highlights. The last two movements were especially joyous, the scherzo and the finale molto allegro. It was a joy to see Bychkov’s left hand draw the different intensities, as much as it was a joy to see the home orchestra being able to respond to the conductor’s demands throughout.

For another year we have been able to experience live music in the 81st edition of the Musical Fortnight. No one can imagine what the first concert of the 82nd edition will be like, although perhaps humanity still has room for improvement. The pandemic has made it possible to attend a classical concert without being interrupted by noisy coughs from uninvited soloists. At least that has been a bonus.

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