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Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov. Bedűich Smetana - symphonic poems from the set My Homeland - CD Review, 4th-5th of March 2024

I. Vyčehrad, Vltava and ©árka.

II. From Bohemia's Woods and Fields, Tábor and Blaník.

The cover of this album, released by Pentatone, depicts a landscape by contemporary Czech artist Zdenìk Danìk, offering a modern approach to 19th century realist painting. It played an important role in the revival of Czech national culture, a trend in which Bedrich Smetana's music and especially his collection "Ma vlast" ("My Homeland") stood out. 2024 marks the Year of Czech Music and the two-century anniversary of the birth of composer Bedrich Smetana, one of the most important Romantic composers and considered the father of Czech music. Combining in his scores elements of his country's musical folklore with the style of 19th century composers such as Liszt, Wagner and Berlioz, Bedrich Smetana was a prolific creator of operas, chamber music, vocal, choral and orchestral pieces, the best known being the opera "The Bartered Bride" and the symphonic cycle "My Homeland".

This collection is a symbol in the turbulent history and culture of the Czech Republic. Evoking the landscapes and legends of Bohemia, the suite includes six symphonic poems that were first heard separately in chronological order between 1875 and 1880. The complete set was first performed in a concert on 5 November 1882 in Prague, conducted by Adolf Cech. Combining the forms of Franz Liszt's symphonic poems with the ideals of the national cultures of the late 19th century, the cycle is best known for the sentimental melodies of the Vltava Poem, of which Bedrich Smetana himself said: "The composition describes the course of the Vltava River, starting from the two small springs of the cold and warm Vltava, to their joining into one stream, its course through forests and meadows, through scenery in which one can imagine a farmer's wedding or the dances of mermaids in the moonlight, on the rocky banks looming imposing castles or towering ruins."

Semyon Bychkov is the conductor on these recordings. Born in Saint Petersburg, the musician emigrated to the United States at the age of 22 after his family suffered oppression under the Soviet regime. Since 1989, the conductor has been living in France. Thus the idea of the Homeland that Bedrich Smetana evokes becomes significant for Semyon Bychkov. The conductor has been vehemently critical of his native country's war in Ukraine and, in the context of his new recording release, he says: "We all have a homeland. We call it differently, but the feeling is the same - the sense of identification with our roots. Pride in the good things and the pain of having to live with the dark aspects. For me, Rodina is the country where I was born, Homeland is in the United States of America where I emigrated and was born a second time. "Ma patrie" is France, where I have lived for almost half of my life. Everyone has an identity, every country has to find a way to develop in peace with its neighbours. Bedrich Smetana's vision shows us the way, which is what makes the 'My Homeland' suite so universal and contemporary."

One of the world's most valuable orchestras, impressive for its expressive power, rhythmic incisiveness and dynamic performances, the Czech Philharmonic was founded 130 years ago and has a special tradition in Europe. With a rich repertoire, the Prague Orchestra is renowned for its interpretation of Czech works and has benefited over the years from the experience of illustrious conductors such as Vaclav Talich, Rafael Kubelik and Jiri Belohlavek, and since 2018 the Orchestra's Music Director is conductor Semyon Bychkov.

The Czech Philharmonic and its principal conductor have been running successful projects over the past few years, have also released albums of symphonic works by Gustav Mahler on Pentatone, and will soon complete the release of the complete cycle of the Austrian composer's symphonies. And the recording of Bedrich Smetana's My Homeland set, a fundamental piece in the orchestra's repertoire, has become a personal and topical project for the Czech ensemble, especially as it has developed a close artistic relationship with conductor Semyon Bychkov.

Larisa Clempuș