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Home Culture Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic, a less idiomatic and more cosmopolitan Dvořák | Culture

Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic, a less idiomatic and more cosmopolitan Dvořák | Culture

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Bird songs in Spillville and pigeon breeding in Vysoká, but also observation of railway engines in Prague and ships in New York. Antonin Dvořák’s music always tried to combine passion for the countryside and the city. In a recent exhibition at the National Museum in the Czech capital, one could see the book that Dvořák used to identify bird sounds during his morning walks. And, on the first page of his autograph seventh symphonywe read this famous annotation: “This topic arose when the Pest Festival train was entering the central station, in 1884.”

It was easy to identify, last Wednesday, March 6, those obsessions of the Czech composer with birds and trains listening to his Symphony no. 9, From the New World. Semyon Bychkov underlined these associations at the head of the Czech Philharmonic, during his second concert at the National Auditorium in Madrid. And we easily recognized the song of the American robin on Jana Brožková’s oboe and the sound of the blue jay on Andrea Rysová’s flute, at the end of the famous largo. But also the insistent roar of a smoking metal monster, at the beginning of the very livelywith that powerful low string that includes Gonzalo Jiménez Barranco from Malaga among his first double basses.

The Russian maestro returned to Spain with the help of Ibermúsica together with the orchestra that he has directed since 2018, to begin a European tour of 14 concerts. A tour dedicated to the imminent 120th anniversary of Dvořák’s death, which began on the 4th in the recently rehabilitated Palau de la Música in Valencia. It will continue today, Thursday, in Barcelona, ​​after two concerts in Madrid, and later, it will head to Vienna, passing through three German cities and ending in Paris, after a performance in Belgium. On the music stands the last three symphonies of the composer of Nelahozeves along with the trilogy of overtures Nature, life and love and his three concertos for piano, violin and cello, with the pianists András Schiff and Bertrand Chamayou, the violinist Augustin Hadelich and the cellist Pablo Ferrández.

Violinist Augustin Hadelich and conductor Semyon Bychkov (with their backs turned) during the performance of Dvořák’s ‘Violin Concerto’, last Wednesday in Madrid.PETRA HAJSKA

Spanish performances have been limited to symphonies Octave and Ninth along with the concertos for violin and cello and the first two overtures. All works (with the exception of the violin concerto) from the last years of the Czech composer, from 1889 to 1894, in which he achieved a synthesis as personal as it was eclectic between the use of Czech folkloric elements and the combined (apparently incompatible) symphonic models of Brahms and Wagner. That populist variant of late romanticism, in the words of Leon Botstein, which today continues to fill auditoriums with guaranteed success.

The Czech Philharmonic has this music in its genes. Let us not forget that this orchestra was born out of the group of musicians of the National Theater, in January 1896, to satisfy the symphonic needs of Prague, although also for charitable purposes. Dvořák himself conducted his inaugural concert in its current venue, the hall named after him in the Rudolfinum, with a monographic program that culminated with the New World Symphony. In Madrid, Bychkov tried to combine his objective and cosmopolitan vision of this Dvořák score with the orchestra’s tradition. But his interpretation improved as the minutes passed. It sounded orderly and flexible, with wonderful solos on the woodwind (like the famous and beautiful English horn that Vojtěch Jouza played), but with the weight of the brass wind, and especially the horns and trumpets. And the best came in the cheerful with fire final where the Russian master skillfully weaved together Czech echoes and native North American sounds.

Wednesday’s concert opened with a performance of the overture Carnival, op. 92 as bombastic in its beginning as it is not very captivating in the exquisite E minor theme of “lost lovers.” A version, however, well governed from the podium in its development and coda, where Bychkov squeezed the fieryness of the Czech group to the maximum. The best was the Violin Concerto with a memorable solo performance by Augustin Hadelich. The 39-year-old Italian-German-American violinist faced the extremely difficult cheerful, but not too much initial, full of all kinds of double strings, arpeggios and bariolages. He showed off the corporeal sound of his Guarneri del Gesù, from 1744, in the slow, but not too much which was the best of the night, being able to sing and count with virtuosity and musicality, but also to dialogue with the orchestra, which now had excellent horn solos. And in the finale He rode the sound wave of the Czech group to shine so much in the frenetic raging as in the melancholic dumka central.

Violinist Jan Mráček (left) and cellist Pablo Ferrández (on stage) during Dvořák’s ‘Cello Concerto’, on March 5 in Madrid.PETRA HAJSKA

Hadelich offered two tips where he chose to drastically change his style. He started with a tango arrangement By a head, by Carlos Gardel, where he exhibited the dialogic lyricism of his double strings. And he ended up with a somewhat academic foray into American bluegrass with Wild Fiddler’s Rag, by Howdy Forrester. Much more accurate was Bychkov’s tip at the end, the first of his Slavic dances, the Furiant in C major, op. 46 no. 1although I didn’t quite find the bite of this music.

Perhaps the best Dvořák that Bychkov conducted in Madrid was heard in the overture that opened his first performance, on the 5th. An excellent version of In the kingdom of nature, op. 91 with its perfectly drawn bow, from beginning to end, with that murmur of the double basses, the propulsion of the first violins led by the concertmaster Jiří Vodička and the elegance of its woodwinds with a special mention for the clarinetist Jan Mach.

He followed the Cello Concerto with the solo performance of Pablo Ferrández. The 32-year-old cellist from Madrid achieved great success and extracted a beautiful sound from his Stradivarius “Archinto”, from 1689. But his interpretation did not work in the allegro initial with frequent tuning checks, abuse of dynamic extremes and greater concern for playing notes than for singing phrases. In it slow, but not too much everything improved, with a brilliant almost Cadenza, although the cellist remained more concerned with polishing the sound of his instrument than with the music. We had to wait for finale to listen to the best musical moments of his performance and, in particular, the beautiful coda that the composer rewrote as a posthumous tribute to his sister-in-law and former love, Josefína Čermáková, and where Jan Mráček, the other concertmaster of the Czech orchestra.

Conductor Semyon Bychkov conducting Dvořák’s ‘Eighth Symphony’ to the Czech Philharmonic, last Tuesday at the National Auditorium.PETRA HAJSKA

Ferrández also did not get the ideal tip right. And he chose to insist on his unquestionable technical solvency with a virtuosic arrangement of the piano piece. Asturiasby Albéniz, a very popular composition with a certain prominence in the recent film Anatomy of a fall. Dvořák returned, in the second part, with another cosmopolitan and detached interpretation, this time of the Eighth Symphony. Bychkov displayed his astonishing technique, fluid and precise, which ensured a musically impeccable performance. But he lacked cohesion and rhapsodic sense both in the allegro with vivacity as in the adagio, where the composer uses several themes that he combines with modal and rhythmic changes. In the third movement, the beautiful dumkawhich comes from his opera The stubborn lovers, sounded not very idiomatic and did not finish rising. The problems in the metal, which had appeared in the Cello Concerto They went further in this symphony. And the Finale It turned out to be quite flat, no matter how much the coda tried to compensate with excesses.

To close this first concert, Bychkov once again added an ideal tip taken from Dvořák’s Slavic dances. Here he directed a magnificent performance of the melancholy and sparkling Ancient E minor, Op. 72 num. 2. Perhaps something was expected from Bedřich Smetana, who celebrated his bicentennial on March 2, but they chose to round off his performance with the very famous Hungarian dance no. 1, by Brahms, as a second tip. The German composer always admired the musical inventiveness of his beloved Dvořák and shared with him a certain interest in the vicissitudes of technological progress. But, in the latter, the Czech always beat him by a landslide, as we can see with this famous quote: “I would give all my symphonies to have invented the locomotive!”

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