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Brahms’s German Requiem is a deeply personal work. He began contemplating it already in 1854, when his friend Robert Schumann attempted suicide. Brahms discovered the title two years later in Schumann’s estate. Brahms’s first attempt at composing a Requiem turned into the Piano Concerto in D Minor (1857).
A German Requiem, Op. 45
Chen Reiss soprano
Boris Prýgl bass
Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno
Petr Fiala choirmaster
Semyon Bychkov conductor
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Brahms’s German Requiem is a deeply personal work. He began contemplating it already in 1854, when his friend Robert Schumann attempted suicide. Brahms discovered the title two years later in Schumann’s estate. Brahms’s first attempt at composing a Requiem turned into the Piano Concerto in D Minor (1857). It was only after the death of Brahms’s mother eight years later that the work was actually composed. It originally had only six movements and was written for baritone, choir, and orchestra. As the fifth movement, Brahms later inserted a soprano solo to the text “I will console you as one is consoled by his mother.”
Brahms himself picked out the texts from Luther’s German translation of the Bible and he avoided the usual liturgical sequence, the Dies Irae, the fury and horror of which had been set to music colourfully by other composers. Rather than emphasising the theme of the Last Judgement, Brahms instead wished to give comfort to those who remained alive. In a letter to Clara Schumann, Brahms actually mentions a “Human Requiem”. The emphasis on the human dimension of music and the content make the German Requiem one of the kindest and most popular compositions of its kind.
The public reacted coolly to a performance of the first three movements in Vienna in 1867, but the premières of six movements in Bremen and then of the complete seven-movement work in Leipzig two years later were received with clear enthusiasm, setting the German Requiem on its way to the hearts of listeners around the world.
The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno has earned a place at the very summit of the choral world. Conductors, orchestras and soloists, who have cooperated with the Brno singers, extol their qualities, while the critics acclaim particularly the ensemble's compact sound and broad range of means of expression.
The Choir, founded in 1990, is a regular guest at the most prestigious European festivals and appears on the most distinguished concert stages. The audiences are captivated by its level of professionalism as well as extraordinary musical feeling.
The man behind the Choir's accomplishments is Petr Fiala (1943), its founding father, Choir Master and Director. A graduate of the Brno Conservatory and the Janáček Academy of Fine Arts (where he studied piano, composition and conducting), Fiala is also a prolific composer (his output numbers some 180 pieces). He has been an active choir master and conductor for the past 45 years. In 2009 he was awarded the Order of Sts. Cyril and Methodius by the Czech Episcopal Conference, in recognition of his outstanding achievements as both conductor and composer, in 2013 he received the City of Brno Prize for his artistic activities. The Second Choir Master is Jan Ocetek (1972).
The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno focuses especially on the performance of oratorios and cantatas. Its qualities are displayed in as many as 90 concerts annually, both in Czech Republic and abroad. The Choir performs with the world's best orchestras and conductors (e.g. Petr Altrichter, Jiří Bělohlávek, Jakub Hrůša, Jakub Klecker, Zdeněk Mácal, Tomáš Netopil, Ondrej Lenárd, Libor Pešek, Leoš Svárovský, Vladimír Válek, Juraj Valčuha, Christian Arming, Marc Albrecht, Hermann Baumer, Marcus Bosch, Stephan Blunier, Kees Bakels, Jean-Claude Casadesus,Dennis Russel Davies, Christoph Eschenbach, Gabriel Feltz, Ivan Fischer, Lawrence Foster, Enoch zu Guttenberg, Martin Haselboeck, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Manfred Honeck, Eliahu Inbal, Marek Janowski, Neeme, Paavo a Kristian Järvi, Dmitrij Kitajenko, Roman Kofman, Marko Letonja, Kurt Masur, Nicholas Milton, Zubin Mehta, Ingo Metzmacher, Yannick Nézet-Séguin,Sir Roger Norrington, Jonathan Nott, Mathias Pintscher, Sir Simon Rattle, Helmuth Rilling, Yuri Simonov, Martin Sieghardt, Steven Sloane, Marc Soustrot, Michael Tilson Thomas, Mario Venzago, Walter Weller, Ralf Weikert, Simone Young, , and others). Although the Choir is a regular guest at numerous distinguished international festivals, home audiences are never neglected, as the Choir appears frequently also in Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Olomouc, Litomyšl, České Budějovice, Český Krumlov and elsewhere across the Czech lands.
The Choir has recorded many CDs and received a number of accolades. In 2007 the singers from Brno were honored by two prestigious European Echo Klassik awards—as the '2007 Ensemble of the Year' (recognizing their rendition of Anton Bruckner's Motets) and for the'2007 Recording of the Year' (i.e. Franz Liszt's oratorio Christus). In 2008 the recording of Paul von Klenau's Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornetts Christoph Rilke was nominated for the prestigious Danish P2 Music Prize in the category '2008 Symphonic Recording of the Year', while in 2009 the recording of B. A. Zimmermann's Requiem für einen jungen Dichter was awarded the Preis der Deutschen Schallplatenkritik. Moreover, accolades have lately not been limited to the European continent: the eminent Japanese Geijutsu Disc Review awarded the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno its prestigious 'Tokusen' Mark of Honor for the live recording of Dvořák's Requiem.
The Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno cooperated in many interesting projects in 2013 – concerts in France - Salle Pleyel in Paris and Lille (with Orchestre National de Lille and Maestro Casadesus), summer festivals in Chaise Dieu and Vézelay, Rheingau Musikfestival with Verdi Requiem and Leoš Svárovský.
Further on concerts with Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann (R. Wagner "Liebesmahl der Aposteln") , concert in München Gasteig (R. Wagner "Rienzi"), Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle (Janáček "Glagolitic Mass"), Budapest Festival Orchester and Iván Fischer (Dvořák "Requiem"), RAI Torino and Juraj Valčuha (Verdi "Requiem"), Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra (Verdi "Quatro pezzi sacri"), RSO Frankfurt and Mathias Pintscher (G. Mahler "Symphony No. VIII" and B.A. Zimmermann "Requiem für den jungen Dichter"), and Stuttgarter Philharmoniker under the leadership of Christoph König.
In 2014 – the Year of Czech Music – the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno had invitations to such interesting projects as Wagner Festival Wels (with Prof. Ralf Weikert), concerts in Vienna with Wiener Akademie ("Missa Solemnis" with Prof. Martin Haselböck), Prague Symphony Orchestra and Helmut Rilling, Budapest Festival Orchester and Ivan Fischer (Dvořák "Requiem, Rusalka"), RSO Frankfurt with Eliahu Inbal, Konzerthausorchester Berlin with Dmitrij Kitajenko (Rachmaninov "Bells"), Liége Royal Philharmonic and Christian Arming (Janáček "Glagolitic Mass"), Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich and Jun Märkl (Bruckner "Mass in E minor and Motets").
The choir performed 2014 also in Poland (Poznań ,Warszawa - "Missa solemnis" with Poznań Philharmonic and Jérémie Rhorer), Germany - Rheingau Musikfestival (Berlioz "Romeo and Juliet" with Leoš Svárovský).
In 2015 the Choir performed with Beethoven Orchester Bonn and John Nelson ("Missa Solemnis"), the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and Alexander Liebreich ("Peer Gynt"). Major project of the summer period 2015 was Verdi "Macbeth" production for Opernfestpiele Heidenheim (10 performances with Stuttgart Philharmonic and Marcus Bosch). The Choir also returned to Musica Sacra festival Nuernberg in June 2015 with two concerts.
The activities of the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno are generously supported by the Region of Southern Moravia, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and the City of Brno. The Choir's general partner is Tescan Orsay Holding, Plc.
The Choir’s Artistic Director and Choir Master is Petr Fiala (1943); he founded the Choir in 1990 and subsequently guided it to its present position as one of Europe’s elite choral ensembles. The Assistant Choirmaster is Jan Ocetek (1972).
Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov was born in Leningrad in 1952, immigrated to the United States in 1975, and has been based in Europe since the mid-1980s. Like the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the cultures both of the East and the West.
Following his early concerts with the Czech Philharmonic in 2013, Bychkov and the Orchestra devised The Tchaikovsky Project, a series of concerts, residencies and studio recordings which allowed them the luxury of exploring Tchaikovsky’s music together. Its first fruit was released by Decca in October 2016, followed in August 2017 by the release of the Manfred symphony. The project culminates in 2019 with residencies in Prague, Vienna and Paris, and Decca’s release of all Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, the three piano concertos, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini.
Fourteen years after leaving the former Soviet Union, Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, the same year as he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris. His international career had taken off several years earlier when a series of high-profile cancellations resulted in invitations to conduct the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. In 1997, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, and the following year, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.
Bychkov conducts the major orchestras and at the major opera houses in the U.S. and Europe. In addition to his title with the Czech Philharmonic, he holds the Günter Wand Conducting Chair with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with which he appears annually at the BBC Proms, and the honorary Klemperer Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music. He was named “Conductor of the Year” at the 2015 International Opera Awards. On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. With repertoire that spans four centuries, the coming season brings two weeks of concerts with the New York Philharmonic, which includes the US première of Thomas Larcher’s Symphony No. 2, and the Cleveland Orchestra where he will conduct Detlev Glanert, Martinů and Smetana. In Europe, his concerts include performances with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Munich and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and the Royal Concertgebouw.
Bychkov’s recording career began in 1986 when he signed with Philips and began a significant collaboration which produced an extensive discography with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings – the result of his 13-year collaboration (1997–2010) with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne – include a complete cycle of Brahms’s Symphonies, and works by Strauss, Mahler, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, Verdi, Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Wagner’s Lohengrin was voted BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year in 2010; and his recent recording of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was selected as BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month.