Symphony No. 4
Chen Reiss (soprano); Czech Philharmonic/Semyon Bychkov
Pentatone PTC 5186 972 56:49 mins
Alchemy has been working wonders in Prague. In the case of the Czech Philharmonic it’s simply an adapted sound building on magnificent traditions. But I always thought Semyon Bychkov, now one of the greats, was more a creature of earth and fire than air. A perfect Barbican performance of Dvořák’s Eighth, floating and gleaming so gorgeously, told me otherwise; and its counterpart in Mahler’s symphonies, the Fourth, is cast in the same golden mould. In both interpretations, every tempo choice seems perfect. Bychkov doesn’t make an adagioesque meal of the radiant song that frames the innocence-versus-experience third movement. He also makes sure that soprano Chen Reiss, poised and enchanting in the ‘child’s view of heaven’ that ends the work, can manage the longer phrases which sometimes get broken in two.
It is a fascinating choice to launch a new symphonic cycle which the Czech Philharmonic more than merits; never forget that the late, much missed Jiří Bělohlávek, Bychkov’s predecessor at the Czech Philharmonic, was always keen to point out that Mahler, brought up in Iglau (now Jihlava), was a Czech composer. The Fourth is a special case, encouraging chamber-musical dialogues, which have never sounded lovelier or at times spookier, spotlighting some magnificent principals, chiefly leader/concertmaster (a shame the players aren’t listed), first horn, clarinet and an especially poignant oboe as the blue skies turn black in the slow movement. Dynamics from the quietest imaginable to the very loudest are perfectly handled by the Rudolfinum recording.