From Schönbrunn to the Staatsoper, Vienna has been a focal point of Semyon Bychkov’s music-making over the past year. Not only did he lead a new production of Wagner’s Parsifal at the Staatsoper this spring, but he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in a series of high-profile engagements in addition to his annual tour dates with the orchestra, while also being featured on his first two Vienna Philharmonic recordings.
Last summer, Mr. Bychkov led the Philharmonic in its 2016 Summer Night Concert (broadcast via PBS’ Great Performances) in the gardens of Vienna’s Imperial Schönbrunn Palace. He soon rejoined the orchestra for its 76th annual ball at the Musikverein and its first performance at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, which opened to much fanfare in January. Sony Classical, meanwhile, released his and the Vienna Philharmonic’s recordings of the Summer Night Concert (August 2016) and works by Franz Schmidt and Richard Strauss (June 2017, U.S.).
Praise for Parsifal at the Vienna Staatsoper
In March and April, Mr. Bychkov conducted a new production of Wagner’s Parsifal at the Vienna Staatsoper. In a run of six performances, this production by Latvian director Alvis Hermanis starred Christopher Ventris (Parsifal), Gerald Finley (Amfortas), and Nina Stemme (Kundry). The following is a sampling of the reviews:
“By orientating himself through the drama of Parsifal’s inner sound world and its development, [Semyon Bychkov] succeeded in producing seamlessly long arched phrases. … Bychkov’s fine sculpting of the sound not only highlights the inherent modernity of the work but also points to Schopenhauer’s idea of self-expression…”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1 April 2017
“Bychkov took his time, accomplishing something one rarely experiences and that Herbert von Karajan had also envisioned: that each bar line appears to last for a few hours. The music flowed seamlessly. Bychkov played on the Philharmonic instrument, or rather he played on the Vienna Orchestra’s experience with Wagner and, like an artist mixing on a giant palette, used the enormous wealth of colors that the musicians have to offer.”
Die Presse, 31 March 2017
“Semyon Bychkov and the Staatsoper Orchestra took the first act carefully and slowly, with moments of glowing orchestral ecstasy as the opera progressed. The musical structures reverberated throughout the house, full of magical and richly colored sounds.”
Der Standard, 1 April 2017
“Bychkov succeeded in balancing the Orchestra and … freeing the profound poetic core found deep within.”
Wiener Zeitung, 31 March 2017
“[Semyon Bychkov] conducted with great clarity, making it easy for the singers and the Staatsoper Orchestra to follow. It was an admirable performance…”
Tiroler Tageszeitung, 1 April 2017
“With Semyon Bychkov at the helm of the famous Staatsoper Orchestra, the musical realization of the opera was totally convincing.”
Kronen Zeitung (gesamt), 31 March 2017
U.S. Release of Schmidt & Strauss Recording with the Vienna Philharmonic
Featuring a neglected masterpiece by Franz Schmidt (Symphony No. 2 in E-flat major) and a symphonic interlude from Intermezzo by Richard Strauss (Dreaming by the Fireside), Mr. Bychkov’s second recording with the Vienna Philharmonic was released by Sony Classical in the U.S. on June 2.
Writing for The New York Times, James R. Oestreich says about the release:
“Every recording of a major work by Schmidt, like this resplendent one with Semyon Bychkov conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, can seem momentous. By definition, moments flee, yet hope persists among Schmidt’s ardent admirers — Austrians, mainly — that the next one will be the turning point, the vehicle to carry the composer to the lasting and universal renown he deserves. Eminently worthy efforts have so far failed, but this is another, and who knows? Certainly, the calcified symphonic repertory can use jolts from past as well as present.”
International critics have found the release similarly resplendent:
“Now [Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2] has a recording that sets standards; and precisely because of its nostalgic beauty, it is unthinkable that it could have been recorded with a better orchestra than the Vienna Philharmonic (with whom Schmidt was the cellist) or, the extraordinary conductor Semyon Bychkov, who excels on the podium. With these resources, the results are as if the music were composed by Schubert—but Schubert in a fit of gigantomania.”
Wiener Zeitung, 21 April 2017
“It’s the [Vienna Philharmonic] whose sound Schmidt must have had in his ears as he wrote it, and Bychkov has a grip on the work’s architecture, especially the second movement’s sequence of variations which ingeniously incorporates the symphony’s scherzo and trio… and there’s an extra: a gently radiant performance of the Fireside interlude from Richard Strauss’s opera Intermezzo.”
Record Review, BBC Radio 3, 6 May 2017
“The sense of nostalgia for a Vienna of old is … felt in Strauss’ Dreaming by the Fireside, with Bychkov and the Orchestra painting a beautiful picture of the past heavenly days.”
Record Geijutsu, May 2017
To learn more about the recording, click here.
A Continued Focus on Tchaikovsky
Following last season’s launch of Beloved Friend—Mr. Bychkov’s international, multi-year Tchaikovsky project comprising concerts, recordings, and residencies—he continues to conduct the music of Tchaikovsky this summer with orchestras across Europe. In recent weeks, he has conducted the Munich Philharmonic in Francesca da Rimini and the First Piano Concerto featuring Kirill Gerstein, as well as the Czech Philharmonic in the same program, with the addition of the Serenade for Strings.
This August, appearing in his 11th year at the BBC Proms, Mr. Bychkov conducts Tchaikovsky alongside music by the composer’s Russian contemporaries and successors, as in the Beloved Friend series with the BBC and New York Philharmonics last season. On August 6 at Royal Albert Hall, he leads the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, while on August 31, he returns with a program of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, Taneyev’s Overture to Oresteia, and Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto with Kirill Gerstein.
The Proms performance of the Manfred Symphony follows the August release of Mr. Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic’s recording of the work as part of their ongoing Tchaikovsky recording cycle for Decca Classics. This recording will be the second installment in the cycle, which was launched last fall as part of Beloved Friend.