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Bychkov's talent not put to best use in latest work


Franz Schmidt, Symphony no. 2 and Richard Strauss, "Dreaming by the Fireside" performed by Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Semyon Bychkov (SONY Classical)

If you've wondered where Semyon Bychkov has been since he was the director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the mid-'80s, the answer  is "the Vienna Philharmonic, no less." Where life seems to be good and his talents have been used to record a ton of great Russian repertoire and late Romantic repertoire too. All of that couldn't possibly be more to the good.

So what, then, are we to think of Bychkov now being so Viennese that he records these two works, which are – neither one – begging, in the higher realms, for a conductor so precise and stirring. Franz Schmidt was once the cellist in a forerunner of the Vienna Philharmonic, where it seems the orchestra still has an affection for Schmidt that won't be matched 500 miles away, much less across an ocean. Schmidt is an academic, though occasionally interesting composer, if your desire to leave the main-traveled roads is extreme but there is precious little on this disc that seemed to cry out for such an august orchestra and first-rate leader. Strauss' "Dreaming by the Fireside" is what one of the instrumental sections is called from Strauss' seldom performed "Intermezzo," a "bourgeois comedy" that is a distant also-ran in the Strauss output.

It is highly enjoyable to hear one of the BPO's better conductors in its history in his current work but a bit off-putting to find him so engaged in second-class Viennese chauvinism.

3 stars (out of four)

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