Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov is a life-long Tchaikovsky devotee, and the Tchaikovsky Project is a personal homage to the composer with whom he first fell in love. The Project consists of performances in London and New York (initially), plus recordings with the Czech Philharmonic for Decca.
The first of these is the monumental “Pathetique”, a musical autobiography of Tchaikovsky’s short life of 53 years. Its devastating final movement has been the source of much speculation, but for Bychkov, “it’s obvious to me the whole piece is a protest against death… the last movement tells us that the triumph [of the previous movement] is just an illusion. Death can’t be avoided, but the anger in the music tells us Tchaikovsky refuses to accept it.”
It’s paired with another slice of doom-laden anguish, the instantly recognisable and gorgeously lyrical Fantasy Overture, inspired by art’s most famous lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Bychkov immersed himself in Tchaikovsky’s letters and other archival material and insisted on “unusually luxurious” recording conditions in order to “invest everything” in these sessions.
The result is a robust, lush reading, deeply Romantic with well-paced climaxes rich in emotional intensity. Beautifully recorded in the Rudolfinum in Prague and accompanied by effusive notes from Bychkov himself, the package is steeped in a wild enthusiasm to which resistance is largely futile.