United Kingdom Rachmaninov, Verbytsky, Smetana: Yuja Wang (piano); Czech Philharmonic Orchestra / Semyon Bychkov (conductor). Barbican Corridor, London, 15.3.2022. (CC)
Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No.1 in F sharp minor, Op.1 (1891)
Mykhailo Verbytsky – Shche ne vmerla Ukraina (the Ukrainian nationwide anthem)
Smetana – Má vlast (1874-79)
This was a big live performance in quite a lot of methods. Firstly, this was the primary one within the Barbican Corridor by a visiting worldwide orchestra because the onset of the pandemic; secondly, it included a efficiency of the Ukrainian nationwide anthem (see under). The main target was very a lot on the Smetana, itself an announcement of the significance of place, of belonging.
Although to start with it was Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto, premiered within the Spring of 1892 and devoted to Alexander Siloti (and revised in 1917). It is a youthful work written after the composer had graduated from the Moscow Conservatory and is filled with the excesses of youth: large contrasts, lengthy, craving melodies, ecstatic heights of virtuosity. And no-one is healthier geared up for these virtuoso challenges than Yuja Wang, whose technical talents stay nonpareil. The finger dexterity is exceptional, as is her means to convey full tone in a whispered pianissimo (one other simply as essential a part of piano approach). And but … I’ve actually heard Wang extra concerned than this, and a second of slight miscommunication within the first motion appeared to underline this. Maybe the acoustics performed a component, too: the Czech Philharmonic is a strong instrument in and of itself, and the Barbican can exacerbate stability issues. It was all too straightforward for the orchestra to swamp the soloist. Nonetheless, that is clearly a bit Bychkov feels passionately about. He appeared eager to emphasize the proximity of Rachmaninov’s writing to Tchaikovsky. It was within the cadenza that Wang settled, and it was within the second motion (Andante cantabile) that actual depth appeared. Starting with a pleasant contact of horn vibrato so attribute of the Czech lands, this motion dared to discover deeply inside areas, a real nocturne, set itself in excessive distinction to the post-Lisztian sparkle of the finale. The sooner sections boasted spectacular pianistic definition, however the slower sections flew near schmaltz (they don’t have to, as anybody who has heard, say, Krystian Zimerman on this piece will know).
Maybe due to the size of the programme, there have been no encores, both from Wang (very a lot anticipated and delivered, often) or from the orchestra on the live performance’s shut – however there was a protracted ovation for Wang.
Bychkov has been outspoken in his anti-war emotions (a full assertion will be discovered on his web site right here) and he delivered a equally impassioned speech originally of the second half, dedicating the efficiency of the Smetana to the individuals of the Ukraine, closing with the phrases ‘Slava ukraini’ (Glory to Ukraine) and a stirring, heartfelt efficiency of the Ukrainian nationwide anthem, which introduced virtually the entire Barbican Corridor viewers to its ft in solidarity. A exceptional second.
Maybe in recognition of the size of the live performance, a brand new troupe of wind and brass gamers got here in on the work’s midpoint (after the third symphonic poem). This was to be a efficiency of a lot power – evident from the forthright pair of harps originally, maybe. Definitely Bychkov sees the work within the grandest phrases, permitting the monumental stature of Vyšehrad (The Excessive Fortress) to register in no unsure phrases. A disgrace the strings’ bloom was barely dulled within the Barbican, however his was a nice efficiency, as was essentially the most well-known of the six actions, ‘Vltava’ (the river that runs via Bohemia, and, certainly, via Prague). Bychkov’s brisk tempo allowed the 2 flutes to chase one another like so many water nymphs frolicking, whereas an alertness to Smetana’s accentuation gave the piece actual dynamism. A particular phrase for the brass part, and their legendary creaminess of tone on this motion earlier than the drama of ‘Šárka’, the legendary determine who avenged herself on males after experiencing infidelity through a bloodbath. Bychkov’s shut was explicitly furioso, as if to carve out two halves to Má vlast.
After the personnel reshuffle, ‘From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields’ certainly heralded change. Maybe different conductors have discovered extra of the Czech pastoral within the woodwinds on this motion, however few have discovered such exactitude within the excessive string fugato. Solely ‘Tábor’ (after a Hussite stronghold) felt weak. Smetana creates a intentionally bleak sonic territory, replete with a sense of abandonment on the opening. It’s fragmented and tough to convey off, and Bychkov appeared not fairly to take action, though he formed the way in which to the climax later nicely. Do that orchestra underneath Jiří Bělohlávek on Decca (2019) to listen to how this motion can work supremely nicely from first to final. The ultimate motion, ‘Blaník’, refers in its title to the hill underneath which Czech warriors sleep till St Wenceslas causes them to come up to avoid wasting the Czech nation. This was Bychkov and the orchestra’s most interesting hour, finely calibrated, fantastically articulated by the Czech strings, and a really rousing shut.
This was the primary of two concert events that comprise the Czech Philharmonic’s Barbican residency in March.