On a night when Mozart and Richard Strauss are on the bill, a new contemporary work does not normally get much attention. But Eduard Resatsch is a composer of the moment, a Ukrainian giving voice to a besieged land. As is conductor Oksana Lyniv, a prominent musical ambassador for her homeland well before the Russian invasion of February 2022. With a Ukrainian singer and poet also in the mix, Prague Spring once again stepped to the forefront of standing against oppression.

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Oksana Lyniv
© Pražské Jaro | Prague Spring Festival 2023 | Petra Hajská

Resatsch is a cellist in the Bamberg Symphony, which offered his symphonic Reflections of Hope as a sanguine video at the height of the pandemic. For Up in Flames, he used five short texts by poet Lina Kostenko, a revered literary figure in Ukraine. The first four are meditations on the fire and ice of love, the fifth a cry of distress provoked by the “predatory alien hordes”. Resatsch’s score has lighter moments, mostly in the interludes between the poems, but starts out tense and stays largely in that vein, the drama exploding into a full-blown aural assault in the finale.

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Julia Tkačenko, Oksana Lyniv and the PKF – Prague Philharmonia
© Pražské Jaro | Prague Spring Festival 2023 | Petra Hajská

Leading PKF – Prague Philharmonia, Lyniv handled Flames with great care, wringing every note of tragedy and solace out of the music without losing any of the fine clarity that marked the entire evening. Still, much of the expression fell to Ukrainian soprano Julia Tkačenko, who sang with operatic anguish. Tkačenko is a rarity, a high soprano with the heft of a lower register, an ideal voice for carrying delicate lines freighted with emotional angst. The juxtaposition of purity and pain was captivating, a deeply personal outcry that at the same time spoke for multitudes.

Tkačenko’s performance drew enthusiastic applause, swelling even more when Resatsch, Tkačenko and Lyniv stood together at the front of the stage – a moment of solidarity that everyone felt, an outpouring of appreciation and support from a nation where the sting of foreign occupation is still fresh in many memories.

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Lilian Lefebvre and Minju Kim
© Pražské Jaro | Prague Spring Festival 2023 | Petra Hajská

If the rest of the program felt anticlimactic, it was not because of any drop in quality. Strauss’s Duett-Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon and Orchestra featured the winners of last year’s Prague Spring competitions, French clarinetist Lilian Lefebvre and Korean bassoonist Minju Kim, who played with professional polish and colorful flair in their  exchanges. But Lyniv was the real star of the piece, seamlessly blending the soloists with a lively interpretation crafted in the orchestra. Typically, conductors provide just basic backdrops for a one-off with unfamiliar soloists, but this performance had contours and character and the kind of internal integrity that usually comes with longtime collaborations.

This is Lyniv’s style and approach – agreeably pleasant on the surface, but very tightly controlled. She even directs the soloists, indicating when and where they should leave the stage. It didn’t work as well in the final piece, Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony. PKF is considered one of the finest Mozart orchestras in the country, but it sounded tightly wound in this outing. The pace was too fast and the parameters too narrow to let the music breathe and peak, rendered with a brisk authority that felt stifling. Compared to the orchestra’s usual rich, effusive style, it was like Mozart on roller skates.

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Oksana Lyniv
© Pražské Jaro | Prague Spring Festival 2023 | Petra Hajská

Lyniv showed a softer side in a pre-concert discussion, talking about the mission she feels to represent her country, and the toll the war has taken on cross-border friendships and artistic relationships. Uplifting but grim, the conversation turned out to be more about politics than music, leaving many listeners sharing the feeling of the moderator when he said, “I hope next time we can talk 100% about art.”

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