Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sychrov Castle, 463 44 Sychrov, Czech Republic

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

A chilly night, dropping to 9C, leaden skies, a touch of eggshell blue following sunset, wet green lawns, ancient trees in midsummer dress, birds in evening song.

This open-air “fighting for human life” concert, in the English Park of Sychrov Castle, a neo-Gothic heritage site sixty miles from Prague in northern Bohemia, saw the Czech Philharmonic, sixty-two strong, virus-tested, back to normal seating arrangements, with a decent-sized invited audience (around 500), suitably wrapped up, huddled under the rain.

On its home turf, the Rudolfinum in Prague, I suspect the CPO would have given a better balanced, more full-bodied, account of Beethoven’s C-minor Fifth – quaintly billed as his “Fate Symphony”. As it was, we got a broad overview, all repeats, a touch undercharged in the lower register (five basses), with, come the marcia Finale, some heavy weather in the repetitive passages plus an awkwardly-managed Scherzo recall. Willing, though, to relax time, Semyon Bychkov found refreshingly phrased beauty in the slow movement, the woodwind principals liberated musically, the closing pages imbued with faded middle-European nostalgia.

Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Overture and Scherzo, with the Wedding March as an encore) bustled away, Bychkov all about clear beat, penetrating eyes and pointed entries, a tousled, jowelled commander on the battle field. But a painter, too, sensitive to niceties of orchestration. And a poet, in the lyricism of the Overture’s slower paragraphs – pedigree woodwind and strings reinforcing the extraordinary emotional intensity of an inspired seventeen-year-old – elevating an otherwise largely routine reading into something approaching greatness.

In a “celebration” honouring doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals, attended by the Czech Minister of Culture, Lubomír Zaorálek, with speeches and presentations the order of the night (no shortage of body-contact or hand-shaking), Stanislav Masaryk’s assured, stylish Haydn Trumpet Concerto was the highlight. Here was fresh, elegantly toned playing, not a note out of place, responsive to virtuoso as much as expressive demands, Bychkov (dispensing with baton) securing buoyant, classically-sprung support from the Czech Philharmonic. Bratislava-trained, Masaryk, this side of thirty, is a name to watch.