Semyon Bychkov/Czech Philharmonic/Kirill Gerstein

The Tchaikovsky Project


ALTHOUGH much of his music will be heard during the new season in Scotland, from the RSNO in particular, a conductor suggesting a deliberate focus on Tchaikovsky might currently expect a withering look. Russian Semyon Bychkov, who succeeded Jiri Belohlavek as chief conductor and music director of the Czech Philharmonic during the course of this “project”, had no such qualms – and an ally in pianist Kirill Gerstein for the realisation of a comprehensive survey of his music as a newly indispensable seven-disc set from a major label.

Bychkov and Gerstein were in Edinburgh last month with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and word is that the conductor, who is flying high at the moment, will be back at the Festival next year with the Czech Phil. Although there is a great deal of wonderful Czech music they could perform, it will be no disappointment if they are still promoting these recordings, because their proselytising zeal leaps out of the speakers. Gerstein’s firm views on the original score of the composer’s Piano Concerto No.1 are already well-known.

Bychkov brings a similar passionate fresh approach to the orchestral music, particularly the hour-long Manfred Symphony, which can sound like very baggy Byron but here is bold and direct. The early symphonies, and particularly the First, “Winter Daydreams”, (a personal favourite) have also rarely had such vivid recordings.

All the Piano Concertos, all the Symphonies, Romeo and Juliet, Francesca da Rimini and the Serenade for Strings, in one neat package at a bargain price. The musicians who will be performing Tchaikovsky over the next few months should know that some of us will be bringing refreshed ears.

Keith Bruce