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6th October 2017

From the moment Maestro Bychkov lifted his baton, until he put it down after nearly 80 minutes, all the structural elements of this Fifth fell clearly into place – as they too seldom do – under his firm guidance to achieve the objectives he wanted. The result was that there was much finely observed detail and the music was allowed to move forward with less of the stop-start manipulation of Mahler’s rising and falling tensions – until the finale, of course – which we sometimes hear […]

There was a visceral sense of grief to the first movement before the second began with beautiful detail in the cellos – did I hear Tristan ever so briefly? – and Bychkov conjured up a maelstrom to suggest someone railing about how life is not entirely futile. The conductor seemed completely at home with the Viennese waltz-inspired frenzy of the Scherzo; there was light and shade and a strangely cheerful optimism. (With his twirling baton – and a hint of a smile crossing Bychkov’s face – I wondered what his New Year’s Day Strauss concert would be like.) The Adagietto was several seconds short of nine minutes – one the fastest I have heard in performance – and the heartfelt playing from the strings was sublime. This is so much better as a love song – rather than a dirge – and there was more than a hint of Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan und Isolde.

The Rondo-Finale follows on immediately from the Adagietto and uses themes heard previously in the symphony. This is the last symphonic movement Mahler wrote where there is unalloyed joy as all his later symphonies are tinged with the troubles in Mahler’s life. Bychkov whipped up the remarkable LSO – especially the horns – to a resounding and affirmative conclusion. For a fleeting moment, I wondered if they would all finish together: I should never have doubted that they would and conductor and orchestra thoroughly deserved the audience’s acclaim.

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6th October 2017

Classical Source

Peter Reed

I find the Violin Concerto’s emotional trajectory hard to follow, especially in the relationship of the Scherzo to the sudden hysteria of the cadenza, but Jansen (playing her Rivaz – Baron Gutman 1707 Stradivarius) could not have been more persuasive in making this solo’s role valid. Semyon Bychkov, though, was the real guv’nor in releasing the full effects of Britten’s orchestration, the style instantly recognisable and played with brilliant candour by the LSO, but Jansen had the last, ambiguous word in the scales that wind through the coda.

If the Britten had been subconsciously evasive, Bychkov and the LSO were anything but in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. A barely noticeable flick from the baton gave the nod not only to a baleful, trenchantly pointed trumpet solo from Philip Cobb but also to the unfolding of an irresistible sense of clear and present danger. Unlike in the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony, here the first two movements (Part I in Mahler’s plan) were funeral music with a keen and subjective awareness of the reality of mortality. Bychkov’s adherence to Mahler’s performing directions was so graphic that the music couldn’t help get under your skin. He has a gift for adding mobility to muscular weight, and, while I’ve experienced the LSO in this Symphony a number of times, this performance came with added and scorching ferocity. The skill with which Bychkov turned the second movement into a spectral wake made the opening diptych especially resonant.

I’ve heard the central third movement (Part II) described as the first modern music Mahler wrote, and, paced with deliberate stealth, the magically played horn music and eerie pizzicatos were the stuff of expressionist nightmares. The retreat into the Adagietto’s love music couldn’t have come soon enough, the LSO strings at their veiled best and Susan Blair’s harp both anchoring the music and giving it its pulse; and then Bychkov kept the Finale’s rigorous contrapuntalism and the memories of earlier music on track, driving the movement to a glorious sense of inevitability.

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6th October 2017

Giornale della Musica

Alberto Bosco

The result was thrilling, confirming Bychkov’s stature as one of the most significant conductors of our time…  The ease with which the many difficulties of the two scores [Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich] were resolved has to be attributed to how Bychkov works: he is a conductor who puts the symphonic discourse first, rather than the dramatic effects or musical polish, and who interiorises all the passages of the score, creating an expressive continuity between passages which allows the small imprecisions of the execution to slip by unnoticed while giving more freedom of phrasing to the musicians…

…The execution of the Tchaikovsky first [Symphony] was unforgettable […] the most successful movement was undoubtedly the second, and the apparition of the popular theme played by the horns after a masterful preparation was the pinnacle of the whole concert. The Scherzo was more scholastic, similar to a light and magical Mendelssohn, even if the waltz of the Trio redeems it. Even with beautiful musical ideas, the Finale is the least clear movement of the four […]. Bychkov was particularly smart to speed up this last movement, transforming its grandeur into a freeing vitality, akin to a dance.

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6th October 2017

Bachtrack

Mark Pullinger

Britten was a devotee of Mahler’s music and his arrangements (such as “What the wild flowers tell me” from the Third Symphony) helped Mahler’s music reach a wider public in England. It was appropriate, then, to pair the Britten concerto with Mahler’s Fifth in what proved a powerful overall performance. Bychkov’s Mahler is implacable and weighty so the sober tread to the opening funeral march came as little surprise, although splenetic outbursts surprised as he ramped up the tempo during the first movement.

The LSO responded magnificently, particularly the brass. Philip Cobb’s incisive solo trumpet call cut across the hall with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel, yet his buttery pianissimos were just as impressive. Fierce double basses really dug into the second movement, but Bychkov was in no hurry, lending a granitic solidity to the performance […] Willem Mengelberg claimed the Adagietto was Mahler’s declaration of love to Alma. Bychkov kept it moving, a songlike, tender embrace that never cloyed, attentive to every dynamic swell in the strings. His approach to the finale, as Mahler moves from tragedy to triumph, was one of fierce industry, leading to a jubilant conclusion to a terrific concert.

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