The Tchaikovsky Project
Roméo et Juliette
Semyon Bychkov, conductor
Semyon Bychkov’s recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no.6 in B minor, the famous “Pathétique” symphony, and of the fantasy overture Roméo et Juliette is only the first part of a wider collection named after the greatest Russian composer and linked to Bychkov’s active participation in a series of concerts and projects called “Beloved Friend: Tchaikovsky Project” taking place in several important cities all over the world. Being the first instalment of a collection that will include many other recordings (the second album, Manfred Symphony, has been released in 2017), this album has the major responsibility to introduce the entire collection and to give an idea of its worth.
Bychkov is perfectly aware of the significance of the project and for this reason he prepared for this recording with extreme care, rehearsing seven times and making twelve recording sessions in the space of fifteen days. This careful preparation has its weight on the final outcome of the Pathétique and of Roméo et Juliette. They are performed here in an original way which was necessary to draw the attention on a new recording of two of the most performed works in the world, and, thanks to Bichkov’s insight, they have lost none of their freshness.
Bychkov already recorded the Pathétique in 1990. The Pathétique is a wonderful musical journey, stunning first of all for the coherency with which Bychkov develops the thread and secondly for the overall sense of resignation that this work expresses from the beginning to the end despite the intermediate steps of the second and of the third movements, where for a moment and just for a moment it seems that some alternative is possible. In the first movement (Adagio, Allegro non troppo), Bychkov is able to manage between the exasperated tension of some passages and the lyricism of others, so that he gives the idea of two main forces, one nervous and firm, the other mild and plain, which are trying to prevail over each other, and immediately conjuring up the idea of inner contrast.
The next two movements (Allegro con grazia and Allegro molto vivace) are an admiration of beauty. The second movement is never melancholic but is definitely contemplative; this is perhaps the most indefinite of the four movements. In its agility and lightness, it reminds of the Flower Waltz from The Nutcracker and it is far from any earthly concern. Music stands amid an ocean of vagueness. The third movement is the equivalent of an awakening, although at the beginning it is still influenced by the contemplativeness of the Allegro con grazia, but its liveliness and brightness grow progressively and in the end they become unrestrained joy.
The Finale. Adagio lamentoso, Andante opens and continues in a completely opposite direction. Bychkov conducts it with impressive efficacy, characterizing it with dense, intense pathos, where a sense of disillusion if not of rejection of the previous joy seems to prevail.
The fantasy overture Roméo et Juliette is equally fine and revealing. It seems to echo the first movement of the Pathétique in its alternation of turbulence and relaxation, but of course here the centre of gravity is elsewhere, in the great depiction of Romeo and Juliet’s love that Bychkov evokes without any exaggerated sentimentalism and that is on the contrary suffused with tenderness and grace, but perhaps the cathartic finale, with its supreme and pure beauty, is even more impressive.