Semyon Bychkov leads the Vienna Philharmonic in a French program of colorful energy.
B01DFY8L1M Sommernachts Konzert 2016 (Summer Night Concert) = BIZET: Farandole from L’Arlessienne Suite No. 2; BERLIOZ: Marche Hongroise from Le Damnation de Faust, Op. 24; POULENC: Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra; SAINT-SAENS: Finale from Le Carnaval des animaux; RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloe – Suite No. 2; Bolero; OFFENBACH: Can-Can from Orphee aux enfers; J. STRAUSS II: Wiener Blut Waltz, Op. 354 – Katia & Marielle Labeque, pianos/ Vienna Phiharmonic Orch./ Semyon Bychkov – Sony 88985313542, 81:40 (6/10/16) ****:
Whether 26 May 2016 qualifies as “midsummer” may be negotiable, but the charm and high spirits of the occasion of this Vienna Philharmonic concert remain unequivocal. Conductor Semyon Bychkov decided that music by French composers would comprise the program, excepting the encore by Johann Strauss. The 1932 Concerto for Two Pianos in d by Poulenc appears as a rare novelty, added to the Vienna Philharmonic repertory at this very concert. The engaging concerto sparkles with light tunes in the tricky meters of the music hall, contrapuntal but clear textures, modal harmony, ostinato patterns, and Gallic penchant for cyclic form. The two sisters keep the keyboard parts in constant motion. The Larghetto movement seems to echo Mozart by way of Saint-Saens, gently luminous with a touch of nostalgia. (Saint-Saens does supply a last vehicle for the two gifted Labeque sisters, by way of the colorful finale from the Carnival of the Animals.) Bychkov keeps the sense of spontaneous ensemble of the Poulenc flowing, with punctuations from percussion, brass, and woodwinds raucous only when required, as in the Finale, with its boisterous, lyric, and slightly raunchy attitude. Bychkov’s Rakoczy March, however, I find entirely too polite except for the last two pages. I miss The Damnation of Faust, Hungarian plain or no.
The more sensuous side of Bychkov’s music-making appears in the Ravel Daphnis et Chloe (1912), a score first introduced to the Vienna Philharmonic in 1927 under Wilhelm Furtwaengler. The Lever du jour opening movement exudes a robust sensuality akin to Wagner. Woodwinds dominate the succeeding Pantomime, especially the flute solo, accompanied by plucked strings and harp. The Danse generale enjoys the dark-chocolate sweetness of a bacchanale, and the VPO strings, brass, and percussion pulsate on full throttle. So the transition to the eternal Bolero (1928) seems inevitable. Clemens Krauss first explored – for Vienna – this exercise in “orchestral tissue without music” in 1931. The exotic Spanish dance slowly serpentines in crescendo through the gamut of orchestral choirs, collapsing – as do all of Ravel’s dance forms – in an ecstasy of self-annihilation.
The relatively brief selections from Bizet and Offenbach, along with the Wiener Blut waltz of Strauss, serve as playful appetizers and an aperitif for a heady course of ingenious orchestration. The audience has been devoted and enthusiastic throughout. [We’ll eventually have the Blu-ray video of this concert reviewed here…Ed.]