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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 (68')
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).
Semyon Bychkov’s second season as the Czech Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor and Music Director saw the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project started in 2015 before Bychkov's appointment to the Orchestra. In addition to the release on Decca Classics of all of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, the three piano concertos, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini, Bychkov and the Orchestra gave Tchaikovsky residencies in Prague, Tokyo, Vienna and Paris and appeared together for the first time at the BBC Proms. Highlights in Prague included the first time that Bychkov led the Orchestra in Smetana’s Má vlast.
In the 2020/21 season, the focus moves from Tchaikovsky to Mahler with performances of the symphonies scheduled both at home and abroad. New music will also be brought to the fore when Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic give the world premières of works by Bryce Dessner, Detlev Glanert and Thomas Larcher: three of the fourteen composers – nine Czech, five international – whose new commissions were initiated by Bychkov at the start of his tenure. Following their premières in Prague, Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic have performances in Vienna, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and London featuring Dessner's Symphony and Larcher's Piano Concerto, composed for Kirill Gerstein.
Recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has also worked closely with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux and Maurizio Kagel. In recent seasons he has collaborated with René Staar, Thomas Larcher, Richard Dubignon, Detlev Glanert and Julian Anderson, conducting premières of their works with the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms.
In common with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the culture of the East and the other in the West. Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and has lived in Europe since the mid-1980's. Singled out for an extraordinarily privileged musical education from the age of 5, Bychkov studied piano before winning his place at the Glinka Choir School where, aged 13, he received his first lesson in conducting. He was 17 when he was accepted at the Leningrad Conservatory to study with the legendary Ilya Musin and, within three years had won the influential Rachmaninov Conducting Competition. Denied the prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic, Bychkov left the former Soviet Union.
By the time Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, he had enjoyed success in the US as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. His international career, which began in France with Opéra de Lyon and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, took off with a series of high-profile cancellations which resulted in invitations to conduct the New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestras. In 1989, he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris; in 1997, Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne; and the following year, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.
Bychkov’s symphonic and operatic repertoire is wide-ranging. He conducts in all the major houses including La Scala, Opéra national de Paris, Dresden Semperoper, Wiener Staatsoper, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Teatro Real. Madrid. While Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, his productions of Janáček’s Jenůfa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov each won the prestigious Premio Abbiati. New productions in Vienna include Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal, and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina; while in London, he made his debut with a new production of Strauss’ Elektra, and subsequently conducted new productions of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten and Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Recent productions include Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival and Strauss’s Elektra at the Wiener Staatsoper.
On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. In the UK, in addition to regular performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, his honorary titles at the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra - with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – reflect the warmth of the relationships. In Europe, he tours frequently with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being a frequent guest of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestre National de France and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; in the US, he can be heard with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Symphony, Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras. This season, in addition to extensive concert and recording commitments with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov's guest conducting engagements include concerts with the Royal Concertgebouw, the Munich and Berlin Philharmonics, Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
Bychkov made extensive recordings for Philips with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Later, his 13-year collaboration (1997-2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne produced a series of benchmark recordings that included works by Strauss (Elektra, Daphne, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Alpensinfonie, Till Eulenspiegel), Mahler (Symphony No. 3, Das Lied von der Erde), Shostakovich (Symphony Nos. 4, 7, 8, 10, 11), Rachmaninov (The Bells, Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 2), Verdi (Requiem), a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Detlev Glanert and York Höller. BBC Music Magazine voted Bychkov's recording of Wagner’s Lohengrin Disc of the Year in 2010; and his recording of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic Record of the Month, while Record Review’s Building a Library on BBC Radio 3 chose his recording of César Franck’s Symphony in D minor as their Recommended Recording. In 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards.