New York, New York (August 9, 2017) — Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic’s recording of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony is released on Tuesday, August 25, as Volume 2 in The Tchaikovsky Project, their recording cycle on Decca Classics that will encompass the composer’s complete symphonies and piano concertos, as well as selected orchestral works. The cycle was launched in October 2016 with a recording of the composer’s Sixth Symphony (“Pathétique”) and Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. Pre-orders are available now through Amazon and iTunes.
With this recording, Mr. Bychkov champions a work that—compared to Tchaikovsky’s numbered symphonies—is rarely performed and, he argues, has been underappreciated. Composed in 1885 between the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, and premiered in 1886, the Manfred Symphony in B minor, op. 58, is based on Lord Byron’s 1817 supernatural gothic dramatic poem Manfred, which tells the story of the title character who has lost the will to live after the death of his beloved. In studying the score, Mr. Bychkov says that he “discovered a diamond—but one that was covered in stigma,” mostly in terms of critical attitudes towards the symphony’s extra-musical program and the structural and thematic strategies used to express it.
“Program music—music that tells a story,” Mr. Bychkov says, “was a completely natural idea in the nineteenth century, but then became viewed with suspicion in the twentieth. It became easy to deride such music as mere ‘movie music.’ But there’s some great movie music out there. And it doesn’t just create a mood under the story… it tells the story. And that’s what Tchaikovsky does, with skill and brilliance. … This symphony is an opera without words, and one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest operas at that.”
On working with the Czech Philharmonic to record the Manfred Symphony, Mr. Bychkov says: “At first they were unsure about it—the music is just so difficult to play. Then we returned to it after a pause, and something wonderful happened. They began to play it with love, real love. At first, it wasn’t evident to them that it was a masterpiece, but then they realized what an immense work it is. They began to empathize with the story being told. That is something only the greatest works of art can give us, if we truly invest enough in them.”
The Tchaikovsky Project marks Mr. Bychkov’s first recording collaboration with the Czech Philharmonic, as well as Decca’s first Tchaikovsky cycle in nearly 40 years (and the first in high-definition 96K/24-bit sound). With a 122-year history encompassing premieres by Dvořák and Mahler, the Czech Philharmonic has long been a point of contact between Slavic and Western European musical traditions, making it “a perfect partner for Tchaikovsky’s music,” according to Mr. Bychkov. The Manfred Symphony was recorded in Prague at the Rudolfinum’s Dvořák Hall, April 24-27, 2017. The complete Tchaikovsky Project box set is scheduled for release in 2019.
This recording is Mr. Bychkov’s eighth featuring works by Tchaikovsky. Prior to this cycle with the Czech Philharmonic, he recorded Tchaikovsky’s music with the Berlin Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. His 1993 recording of Eugene Onegin with the Orchestre de Paris won numerous awards and was named one of Opera magazine’s 30 “all-time great recordings.”
In concert and on record, Mr. Bychkov is currently engaged in an international, multi-season focus on Tchaikovsky, which includes the Decca recording cycle and 2017-18 performances of the Manfred Symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Proms on August 31, 2017 and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, May 3-6, 2018. Additional Tchaikovsky performances this season include the First Symphony with the Spanish National Orchestra; the Second Symphony with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orchestra dell’Accademia di Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, and San Francisco Symphony; the Fourth Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic, Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale RAI, and Tonhalle-Orchestra Zurich; and the Fifth Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic. Through this Tchaikovsky focus, which began last season with the launch of the recording cycle and concert series in New York and London, Mr. Bychkov reconnects with the classic Russian repertoire of his formative years, remarking that “I’ve loved Tchaikovsky’s music ever since I can remember. Like all first loves, this one never died.”
One of the world’s most esteemed conductors, Semyon Bychkov has achieved international recognition for an approach to music making that combines innate musicality with the rigors of Russian music pedagogy. He has conducted virtually all of the major orchestras in the U.S. and Europe and previously served as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Grand Rapids Symphony, and Orchestre de Paris, and Chief Conductor of both the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne and the Dresden Semperoper. Mr. Bychkov currently holds the honorary Klemperer Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and the Günter Wand Conducting Chair with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with which he appears annually at the BBC Proms. In 2015, the International Opera Awards named him “Conductor of the Year.”
Founded in 1896, the Czech Philharmonic is an internationally acclaimed orchestra of 124 musicians that was voted among the top 20 orchestras in the world by Gramophone. The orchestra’s recordings have won numerous awards, including ten Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles Cros, five Grand Prix du disque de l’Académie française, and several Cannes Classical Awards, as well as a Grammy Award nomination in 2005.
The Tchaikovsky Project: Volume 2
Semyon Bychkov, Conductor
Decca Classics 483 2320
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-93)
Manfred Symphony in B minor, op.58
1. I. Lento funebre (17:46)
2. II. Vivace con spirito (9:48)
3. III. Andante con moto (11:38)
4. IV. Allegro con fuoco (20:11)
Total timing: 59:23