Put simply I don’t know a finer conductor today of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Manfred Symphony than Semyon Bychkov. In recent years, whether at the Royal Academy of Music or with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (as far as London is concerned), Bychkov has proved himself a master of one of Tchaikovsky’s supreme scores, a Symphony composed between the Fourth and Fifth, and a legitimate part of any complete cycle.
With the Czech Philharmonic in wonderful form, superbly virtuosic and musically certain and sensitive, relishing some of Tchaikovsky’s most imaginative, descriptive and sophisticated orchestration, Bychkov certainly commands the power and passion of the music as well as its delicacy and lyricism; indeed he loves every semiquaver and every detail yet sees the work whole and rolls out perception after perception into an hour of greatness – and this Manfred is also complete: no cuts or emendations (some conductors have taken unforgivable liberties with this masterpiece).
What we have then is a performance that has been painstakingly prepared – the big gestures and all the inner workings, yet how spontaneous it all sounds – so that when the composer’s creativity demands rawness, visions of loveliness, emotional upheaval, lightness of touch, pastoral eloquence or bacchanalian excesses, it’s absolutely present, all part of a grand and expansive design – Tchaikovsky’s – and with an organ contribution (saved until near the end) that doesn’t dominate but nonetheless feeds a new colour (of many) and something momentous: the signalling of the very moving and transcending closing bars, poignantly achieved here.
Add in a recording that is ideally vivid yet natural to the sympathetic venue – with a bass response that should have your speakers and floor shaking with approval (double basses on the left, violins antiphonal, as required) – to confirm this as a very special and notable release, documenting a stunning drama.