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1st March 2018

March news

Following 3 performances in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic from 28 February-2 March, March sees Semyon Bychkov record Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony at the Rudolfinum as part of his ongoing Tchaikovsky Project for Decca Classics. Later in the month, Bychkov travels to Vienna to start rehearsals for 3 performances of Wagner’s...

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26th February 2018

Le Figaro 

Christian Merlin

Shostakovich, Bychkov’s secret weapon


The conductor directed the Fifth Symphony with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Philharmonie without exaggeration. Just as he had in 1986.


The first time I heard Semyon Bychkov conduct Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony was at the Salle Pleyel in 1986.  The newly nationalised American–Russian conductor was just 33.  As well as galvanizing the audience, his performance so impressed the Orchestre de Paris that he was immediately offered the title of Musical Director following Daniel Barenboim.  The same year, he made a recording of the work with the Berlin Philharmonic – still Karajan’s Orchestra – for Philips.  Asked about his successor, the God of the baton only mentioned one name: that of Semyon Bychkov.  It was clearly too much pressure to be placed on the shoulders of a modest and uncalculating man, and filled with pitfalls.


The 1990s were not the easiest for Bychkov, but they made him stronger both musically and psychologically. Throughout this time however, although he made his mark in Wagner and Strauss, Shostakovich remained at the core of his repertoire, his life-line.


Last Monday, thirty-two years later, it was Shostakovich’s Fifth that he again chose to conduct at Paris’ Philharmonie.  His hair, jet black at the time, is still abundant but now white.  His gestures, which were previously expansive and free, have become calmer and more concentrated but no less powerful.  At 65, the young wolf has become a master.  But not only is there no trace of routine in his approach to this music whose secrets he understands completely but, it is as if maturity has enabled him to touch the very heart of the music without any hint of distraction, hyperbole or excess, temptations that are easy to succumb to in music that is not devoid of pathos.


And we can hear for ourselves that Shostakovich has everything to gain: not only does the clarity of architecture not detract from the emotion, it increases it, allowing one to focus only on the essentials.  The progressions are smooth, the tension never falters, and each episode is characterized with a total tonal accuracy.  It gives the rare impression that one is hearing the work, and nothing but the work, rather than something that is filtered through the subjectivity of the interpreter, while knowing that it is an illusion.


Happiness would probably not have been so complete had Bychkov not had this most precious instrument, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra, with him this evening. It is good to admire the power of the Berlin Philharmonic and the refined elegance of Vienna, but there always is a special place in our hearts for the Dutch orchestra.  Its full sound and warm veneer, somewhere between gold and velvet, is of a depth and nobility that is almost unparalleled. The burnished colour of the strings, the natural sound of the winds, the unabashed intensity of the brass, the compact percussive force of the drums, all balanced naturally, allowing the famous “persistent strings” to continue to pierce you until the final denouement, when they are joined by the rest of the orchestra but never covered.   The conductor’s physical and emotional investment was such that it took a few seconds before he turned to greet the public, which had already erupted into applause.

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24th February 2018


Rémy Louis

Philharmonie de Paris: Semyon Bychkov offers Shostakovich’s grand Symphony No. 5 with Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra

We have known for 30 years that Semyon Bychkov is a great interpreter of Shostakovich.  But, in perfect combination with a supple and responsive Concertgebouw, he delivered a truly original reading of Symphony No. 5.   His conducting is so unswerving that accents, balance, and even the inner themes never lost any of their polyphony or detail, in taking us to breaking point.  It was an interpretation of total commitment and intensity, while also luminous and airy but never overly grand or exaggerated.   The biting cellos and double basses, the wild woodwind – the bassoon! – in the second movement, and the almost super-human pianissimos in the third: the rhythmic relief, the dynamic scale, the bewitching colours.

What orchestral sound!  The control of the tension in the great crescendos (I, III), its maintenance in the climaxes, the totally concentrated driving forward (IV) aroused unadulterated admiration – the unanimity in the dialogue between first and second violins took one to another level.  What Bychkov achieved here surpassed the protesting force of music, engendered by the well-known and tragic context of its birth: it tells of an internal freedom raging against the drunkenness of a bruised but indomitable creator.  We did not come out unscathed from the journey which was greeted with thunderous applause. Regrettably the  public did not allow the maestro to taste the silence that he deserved, and it took until the last bars of Nimrod (Elgar’s Enigma Variations) given as an encore for them to be satiated…

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24th February 2018


Montserrat Martín

The concert opened with the wonderful Prelude to Wagner’s Meistersingers of Núrenberg performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and members of the Youth Orchestra of the Community of Madrid as part of the Side by Side project . . .  the prelude burst energetically, with a uniform and warm sound in strings and brass.  We were inside the score listening to the main themes of the opera within barely fourteen bars going from oboe, to flute, with strings and trumpets playing hide-and-seek. The brass continued cleanly in a march, moving between violins and cellos.  You could hear segments of arias dancing and mixing and intensifying like waves, before the woodwinds broke them and let them return to the see in the warmth of the strings.  Double basses, triangles, woodwind, brass . . .  all were brought to an elegant and ordered outcome under Bychkov’s impeccable baton . . .  The evening was an authentic sensory joy.

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