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20th December 2016


Vincent Guillemin

As part of Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s residency, The Orchestre National de France gave a superb performance of Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto, accompanied by conductor Semyon Bychkov who was at first wise and later, in Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, exalted…

Following the interval, Semyon Bychkov returned on his own to the stage where he conducted a much larger orchestra in the rarely heard Manfred Symphony… Bychkov developed the opening bars of the work which still lacked heat slowly and showed the risk in the rapport between the rapid attacks of the violins and the woodwind until the exalted sound carried on high a coda which is one of the most beautiful themes that the composer ever wrote.

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12th December 2016

Bychkov continued to paint magical colours in Tchaikovsky’s ‘Manfred’ Symphony. His extensive experience as an opera conductor proved beneficial in this programme. Cautious, yet with a theatrical flair, he brought out the individual voices, breathing with them, making them flourish whilst all the while maintaining control, with the help of the formidable percussion, and a balance of sound. The liveliness of the tempi kept the more lyrical themes agile and free of schmaltz. When Manfred finds salvation in the finale, the beauty with which the Philharmonic played was almost sacred in character, borne also out of the long-held tension at the end of the piece. It is both regrettable and remarkable that we do not hear Bychkov more regularly in Munich at the opera house.

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11th December 2016

After the break, Semyon Bychkov relied on precision and a variety of phrasing to tackle Tchaikovsky’s monstrous ‘Manfred’ Symphony…

Manfred’s soul is like the deep black night. His beloved sister Astarte has gone and he uses all his powers in vain to bring her back.  This turmoil and despair is conjured in the powerful mood changes in the music, and the Munich Philharmonic played with grandiose pathos, which Bychkov in turn delivered with care, channeling it through great musical arches. The second movement was enchanting with the orchestra gracefully producing magical sounds with beautiful and clear strings, which were almost impressionistic. In the crazed finale, brass, violins and harps lit up together in pure transcendence – the final heroic transfiguration was taken over by the organ.  Much applause was given for this sharply contoured account of this overwhelming music.

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4th December 2016

The Mahler Five is a very different beast, although equally difficult to tame. It is in five huge movements, starting with a funeral march, taken at a slow trudge by Mr. Bychkov. This methodical approach to the music paid dividends in dramatic power, with the tuba providing thunderous punctuation to the descending three-note theme. The movement ended with despair and defeat.

The orchestra picked itself up for the difficult second movement, an argument between a manic, almost shrill utterance from the tutti and a slower, more measured theme in the strings. Glimmerings of light finally appeared in the scherzo, one of Mahler’s most playful movements and illustrative of this work’s attempt to clamber from gloom to illumination over its long arc and multiple, interrupting trio segments.

Then it was time for the “hit” of this symphony, the slow Adagietto. Mr. Bychkov took this at the same measured tread as the first movement, drawing rich details from the string section as the rest of the orchestra sat silently by. He led directly into the Rondo, a vast and absurd finale that celebrates life just as the first movement celebrates death.

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