I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


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Knockout Pathétique from Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic in Vienna

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 “Pathétique”

Renaud Capuçon, violin
Semyon Bychkov, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Vienna, Musikverein, Großer Saal, 19 November 2019

When Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto received its world premiere in Vienna in 1881 the critic Eduard Hanslick compared it to “music that stinks to the ear”. Well, we’ve moved on since; Hanslick became an amusing footnote, the concerto is still played worldwide. On the second day of their Viennese stint Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic were joined by French violinist Renaud Capuçon. For good contrast, the Violin Concerto was paired with one of Tchaikovsky’s most dramatic works, his Sixth Symphony, the “Pathétique”.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Superb Tchaikovsky from Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic in Vienna

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23 (1879 version)
Sergei Rachmaninov: Melodie in E major for piano, Op. 3 no. 3
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony in B Minor, Op. 58

Kirill Gerstein, piano
Semyon Bychkov, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Vienna, Musikverein, Großer Saal, 18 November 2019

Tchaikovsky in 1874

Tchaikovsky in 1874

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under their Principal Conductor and Music Director Semyon Bychkov took up residence at Vienna’s Musikverein, performing selections from their “Tchaikovsky Project”. Bychkov is the latest of musicians who take their Tchaikovsky really serious. Meticulously prepared and informed with archival research as well as passion, he invites us to listen with new ears. If you think you know your Tchaikovsky well, you may want to reconsider after hearing Bychkov and the Czechs.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Alexandre Kantorow wows with the Mariinsky Orchestra in Antwerp

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Suite, Op. 57
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto no. 2 in G Major, Op. 44
Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. M. Ravel)

Alexandre Kantorow, piano
Valery Gergiev, Mariinsky Theatre Ochestra
Antwerp, Queen Elisabeth Hall, 15 October 2019

After more than 25 years, you know that patience is your prime virtue when attending concerts of Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra. After all, when in luck, you will be richly rewarded. For the audience in Antwerp that reward came foremost with the introduction of Alexandre Kantorow, the young French pianist (22) who struck gold at the International Tchaikovsky Competition last June. As Co-Chair of the Organising Committee of the Competition, Gergiev often tours with the laureates. It was all the more fitting that they performed Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard Piano Concerto no. 2 in G Major which Kantorow had played in the final round.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Russian delights with Lugansky and Kochanovsky in Brussels

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio espagnol, Op.34
Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto no. 2 in G Minor, Op.16
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 5 in E Minor, Op.64

Nikolai Lugansky, piano
Stanislav Kochanovsky, Belgian National Orchestra
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts (Bozar), 27 September 2019

Conductors do make a difference with orchestras. We were reminded of this once again when Stanislav Kochanovsky stood before the Belgian National Orchestra to lead them through an all-Russian triple bill, gathering Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. The Russian maestro has been guesting with the BNO on a handful of occasions and their collaboration hints at real chemistry. With the sort of repertoire that only a few years ago in other hands tended towards loudness contests, BNO audiences are now rewarded with excellent, musical performances.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Pure magic from Gustavo Gimeno and the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: The Tempest, Op. 18
Maurice Ravel: Piano concerto in D Major ‘For the left hand’
Dmitry Shostakovich: Piano concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis and Chloé, Suite No. 2

Yuja Wang, piano
Gustavo Gimeno, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts (Bozar), 3 June 2019

Two 20th-century piano concertos flanked by two short orchestral works made for an intriguing bit of programming in this concert of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg (OPL) under their Music Director Gustavo Gimeno. It carried the promise of colour, brilliance and passion with works by Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Shostakovich, and featured super star pianist Yuja Wang as the soloist in both concertos. As the beginning of the orchestra’s European June tour, it turned out to be a highly propitious evening.

Gustavo Gimeno
(© Marco Borggreve)

The opening work was Tchaikovsky’s rarely heard symphonic fantasia after Shakespeare The Tempest, Op. 18, from 1873. The Bozar programme booklet, however, confusingly described at some length a totally different work: The Storm, an overture adapted from Alexander Ostrovsky’s play, which Tchaikovsky composed in 1864 while still a conservatory student. Although The Storm is not without merit, The Tempest is definitely far more rewarding. The opening seascape is one of Tchaikovsky’s most pictorial pages – both Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov would remember it well – and the ardour of the love theme is comparable to his more famous Romeo and Juliet overture. What the audience eventually thought they heard this evening in the Brussels Centre for Fine Arts, is anybody’s guess, since no correction was provided. In any case, it was clear that most in the packed hall were there for Yuja Wang.

The Tempest is not an easy work to open with and the evocation of the sea was initially somewhat wanting in atmosphere, while the seams between the episodes ideally could have been handled more imaginatively. Yet the quality of the OPL was undeniable and once the storm was unleashed everything fell into place. Gimeno, a calm figure on the rostrum, conducting with a clear beat and a gracefully drawing left hand that is more than a little reminiscent of the late Claudio Abbado, secured a visceral, highly theatrical reading. The storm scene itself, with ferocious brass, battling timpani and bass drum, and shrieking high flutes, contrasted with the full-blooded romance, at first gently sung by the muted cellos but emphatically developed by Gimeno and eventually played with wild abandon. The OPL’s brass excelled once again before the return of the sea theme, now more focused than at the beginning.

Two different piano concertos, Ravel and Shostakovich, two different worlds. They may be short, but to tackle them the same evening is quite a tour de force. Yet piano prodigy Yuja Wang isn’t one to be daunted easily. She has all the technical prowess it takes, and then some, to perform Maurice Ravel’s Piano concerto ‘For the left hand’, but I was left wondering if she also had the right temperament for it. The fortissimo piano entrance was superbly handled, though in spite of all her energy her playing lacked a true savage edge for this pitch dark score and somehow I felt she was outgunned (if not drowned out) by the magnificent orchestra. Ravel gave his orchestra plenty to say in this concerto, and Gimeno and the OPL delivered it all in an admirable manner.

Wang reappeared for Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano concerto after the break. It gave her time to change her dress from midnight blue into white. She also took her time to do so. As with the Ravel she kept the audience waiting for long minutes to arrive on stage. It’s all part of the Yuja show and just like the mechanical bows and the applause-milking, these diva manners don’t necessarily make her a more attractive performer. Not that many cared, I assume, clearly in thrall to her talent. They came here to be dazzled and have a good time, and to be sure, nobody left the hall indifferently.

Shostakovich’s generally upbeat concerto, written as a present for his son’s 19th birthday in 1957, suited her better than the Ravel. The opening Allegro was tremendously exciting and jolly good fun. Soloist and orchestra seemed to spark each other off and the lean orchestration gave Wang’s piano more breathing space. Rhythmically secure, orchestra and soloist worked up to an exhilarating first movement. Wang relished the jaunty finale with astonishing speed as well as clarity, although the bittersweet Andante felt a tad cool and uninvolved.

After eking out the ovation for a longer time than necessary, the enraptured audience was finally gratified with two encores out of Wang’s music-box, the delicate Melodie dell’Orfeo from Gluck arranged by Sgambati and the flashy Variations from Bizet’s Carmen from Horowitz which brought the hall to near hysteria.

The programming might have been slightly unconventional with the two piano concertos straddling the interval and ending with a short orchestral work. It was enough to confuse patrons who already wanted to leave after the Shostakovich. In any case they would have missed the best part of the evening, a stunning rendition of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2.

While most of this concert was a true feast of colour and sound, the best was kept for last. Gimeno, guiding with a clear direction and purpose, struck an ideal balance between sweep and details in a Daphnis and Chloé, sans chorus, but brimming with life. The daybreak was breathtaking, veiled in mystery at the outset but morphing with colourful contributions from the winds, in deftly handled crescendos towards a saturated climax. The polish and textural clarity of the OPL strings, the magnificent solos (in particular the 1st flute from, I gather, Etienne Plasman in the Pantomime), the superbly judged dynamics and the impeccable balance contributed to a real sense of magic. A rousingly spectacular Bacchanale, topped by no-holds-barred percussion and brass, brought this unabashedly hedonistic moment to a thrilling end.

Gimeno generously sprinkled some more magic with Le jardin féerique, the apotheosis from Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye. This was a wonderful evening in many ways. Gustavo Gimeno has been heading the Luxembourg formation since 2015. Judging from this concert, their collaboration is a true winner.


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The American Dream still lives in Antwerp

John Adams: Two Fanfares for orchestra
Bohuslav Martinů: Violin Concerto No. 2

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 “Pathétique”
Josef Špaček jr, violin
Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, David Zinman
Antwerp, Queen Elisabeth Hall, 3 May 2019

David Zinman (© Priska Ketterer)

David Zinman (© Priska Ketterer)

This concert of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra was part of “The American Dream” theme this season, focusing on American composers and musicians, as well as European artists who for one reason or another travelled or worked stateside. The respected David Zinman led the orchestra in an interesting programme, offering next to Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony an absolute rarity with Bohuslav’s Martinů’s Violin Concerto no. 2, composed and premiered in the US. The American presence was further ensured by the Two Fanfares for orchestra from John Adams.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Mischa Maisky shines in Tchaikovsky in Brussels

Hans Werner Henze: Der Erlkönig, orchestra fantasy
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme in A major, Op. 33
Franz Liszt: A Faust Symphony, S 108

Mischa Maisky, cello
Hugh Wolff, Belgian National Orchestra
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, 22 March 2019

Like the Brussels Philharmonic, Belgium’s national band has Anglicised its name into Belgian National Orchestra (BNO), thereby putting the confusing Dutch/French labelling happily to rest. But the real good news is that, at least judging from this concert, the BNO has become a more attractive formation, more polished, focused and committed than I can remember them. Led by their current music director, Hugh Wolff, they made a fine impression in a demanding programme which included Liszt’s Faust Symphony and a stellar performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a rococo theme by Mischa Maisky.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.