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BBC Proms 2011
Bychkov showed here exactly why he has become one of the world's leading conductors, with an elegant style that mixes calm authority and persuasive heart. In Mahler's Sixth Symphony that translated into a catclysmic performance, surely one for the Proms annals. Steering an expanded BBCSO through Mahler's 85-minute work, Bychkov struck a perfect balance between tension and release, shaping everything with subtle restraint...
The Sunday Telegraph
No such extra-musical crutches were needed to appreciate the majesty of what Semyon Bychkov and the BBC Symphony Orchestra extracted from this labyrinthine score [...] In the first few bars, Bychkov nailed his colours to the mast: this would be a unified conception, driven by volcanic energy and a very physical approach to sound. Mahler's grand tour of the emotions proceeds via textural contrasts and tissues of repeated motifs: Bychkov wove these seamlessly, using woodwind and brass to chill and thrill, and the strings to bring balm.
Even this, the darkest and most interpretatively challenging of Mahler's symphonies, has become mainstream repertoire now; but from the opening bars of Bychkov's performance, it was clear that this was going to be something out of the ordinary [...] Bychkov drew from the orchestra a momentum born of desperation. The Scherzo was unremitting: slightly desiccated in its brittle percussive nature, with sudden dynamic accents like shots of pain. A downward spiral of breath and bow led to a lightly suspended slow movement, which felt as though it would never quite be grounded. And then a finale, which was a hurtle through Hell.
Bychkov's approach to the work was almost classical in its restraint; while he's the last conductor to wear his heart on his sleeve that heart was clearly beating throughout. What impressed throughout the 85-minute span of the piece was the tension and cohesion Bychkov maintained until the final crushing bars and even afterwards into the long ensuring silence. His command of the score - he barely glanced at the copy in front of him, turning pages seemingly without referring to them - was absolute. As on several previous occasions, he drew the very best from the hard working BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Best of all was the massive Finale, which felt almost as much symphonic poem as symphonic movement. After a detailed response to its disturbing introduction - with a full complement of four harps - there was ferocious energy and grip as the music drove forward. The gradual build-up to the first hammer-blow was handled with particular patience and both strikes made their full impact [...] Part of the success was due to Bychkov's ability to characterise those contrasting episodes of stillness whilst still obtaining and sustaining full power at the climaxes.
The architect of this success was the conductor Semyon Bychkov. He launched the first movement at a cracking pace [...] Bychkov took the Scherzo at quite a lick, its pounding march rhythms taking on even more sinister overtones than they had in the first movement, yet allowed the moments of balm, especially in the strings, their due levity [...] Bychkov never let us forget the undercurrent of foreboding that permeates the entire symphony. The fourth movement was faultlessly played and conducted; a proper and fitting climax to everything that had gone before [...] A stunning evening.
Yet the best wonders of Semyon Bychkov's performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and friends were not Verdi's fortissimo splurges but the moments of spiritual rapture: the quiet moments, when Verdi's national monument, composed to commemorate the poet and novelist Manzoni, turns private, domestic and tender [...] From the first bars, with tense strings prowling, Bychkov held the Requiem in the firmest grip and always revealed its devotional heart [...] From start to finish this was an enthralling performance, greeted after the final note with the best gift of any audience: a grateful, extended silence.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra rarely plays like this and the reason was standing on the podium. Semyon Bychkov conducted a performance which fair crackled with electricity, his soloists injecting dramatic voltage into every page of the score. As he demonstrated in his 2009 Don Carlos at Covent Garden, Bychkov has an innate insight for Verdi and the orchestral colours, or tinta, required for each section. He balanced his orchestral forces well, so that individual instruments, such as the piccolo in the Sanctus, came to the fore. The off-stage trumpets in the Tuba mirum were placed around the Gallery, to wonderful effect - if there's one work perfect for the Royal Albert Hall, it's this. And how wonderful to see a cimbasso wielded in anger! Pacing was nigh on perfect. Bychkov's handling of the massed choral forces was impressive, drawing hushed whispers from the cloisters to raise the hairs on the back of one's neck, through to the terrifying rage of the 'Dies irae'. [...] The rapt silence which followed the close of the 'Libera me' lasted a full forty seconds and was testament to a stunning performance. I doubt I'll attend another prom this season which knocks me sideways like this one.
Mark Pullinger, Opera Britannia
[...] in the hands of a lesser musician, the way Bychkov played with balance to, for instance, uncover the BBC Symphony Orchestra's woodwind time and again even amidst thick orchestration, or some of his more deliberate tempos, would cause the whole structure to fall apart. [...] Yet there's something hypnotic about Bychkov these days and this Prom was very special. It's the way that he retained an iron control over the dynamics while maintaining propulsion. [...] the intensity of the thing, by the end, was overwhelming.
James Inverne, Gramophone
Semyon Bychkov conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a performance of extremes, both emotional and dynamic, that was also characterised by exceptional attention to detail [producing] an interpretation of considerable focus and insight. [...] In terms of the age-old debate about whether the Requiem is primarily sacred or profane, devout or agnostic, Bychkov seemed to settle on the side of doubt rather than faith, bringing the work to a close in a numbed void after traversing a terrain fraught with images of dread. Speeds were urgent, even in the 'Agnus Dei', where most conductors dawdle. The colossal choral forces - combining the BBC Symphony Chorus, the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the London Philharmonic Choir – unleashed a crushing sonic weight at full throttle, though the sounds that linger most in the memory, perhaps, were the quieter passages, suggestive of great crowds murmuring in terror. Clean orchestral textures, meanwhile, allowed us to hear molten woodwind gurgles and ominous pizzicato throbs that we usually miss.
Tim Ashley, The Guardian
Bychkov appeared less interested in the short-term roller-coastering peaks and troughs than the long-term restless search for spiritual respite. This focus on structure meant that the final 20 minutes saw the most memorable playing and singing. [...] With Bychkov, heart and soul came with the earth-shattering final choral climax. This was the point the desperation of this atheist's requiem really seized me. His sober but ultimately bone-shakingly cathartic take made one realise how much can be gained from viewing Verdi's creation sombrely, seriouly and in a single cosmic span.
Igor Toronyi-Lalic, www.theartsdesk.com
[...] the massed forces assembled for Verdi's Requiem were marshalled by Semyon Bychkov to shattering effect. [...] The conductor's control was never in doubt and he maintained an enviable balance between detail and scale, whilst unerringly tapping into an underlying flow beneath the surface. He also managed to galvanise his soloists into an impressive unit, bounded by genuinely moving emotional involvement that made them each convincing protagonists in the Requiem's often very human drama.
Hugo Shirley, www.musicalcriticism.com
Verdi's Requiem ... needs to be attuned to the music's hushed intimacy as much as its blazing intensity, and on that level this one succeeded magnificently. [...] As the performance unfolded it became clear that the conductor, Semyon Bychkov, really had the work under his skin. He made it seem urgent and pleading, especially in those moments that in some performances can seem emptily grand, such as the brass fanfares in the 'Dies irae'. [...] In all, I felt I was witnessing a classic performance of this great piece.
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
One of the most anticipated events of this 74th Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, was Semyon Bychkov's performance of Britten's War Requiem. The performance engaged all Maggio's resources and, after an absence of many years, allowed us to admire the technical and interpretative abilities of one of the most talented conductors in the world. Without any assistance to conduct the chamber orchestra which accompanies Wilfred Owen's lyrics set within the liturgical text, Bychkov took the full burden of the performance and caught the authentic spirit of the piece which as well as containing diverse language references, is both harsh and distressing. He succeeded in achieving this result thanks to an interpretation of extreme clarity and impressive dynamics, a constant reflection of the powerful and tragic background of the work and its chamber interludes, which produced magnificent results. The last bars of the final pianissimo were prolonged by a long, moving silence before the audience erupted into applause.
Giuseppe Rossi, Il Giorno - La Nazione
Six years since he last conducted the orchestra of Maggio Musicale, Semyon Bychkov returned to Florence to conduct the ensemble with which he worked so hard while he was principal guest conductor in the 90's. The Russian conductor presented himself to the Florentine audience by braving Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, op. 66, which received its first performance in 1962. Bychkov interpreted the War Requiem with all its dramatic content, and maintained the tension throughout, communicating dramatic emphasis in parts such as the Hosanna and, in the chamber pieces with tenor and baritone, concentrating on the score's most intimate and rarefied recesses. In this way, the Russian conductor gave us Britten's imposing fresco, not only in its entirety but in individual detail as well, thus realising a perfect synthesis of the work. [...] The Maggio Choir helped Bychkov in his work with a great performance.
Luca Summer, Il Giornale (Tuscany edition)
Festival de Saint-Denis (Orchestre National de France)
The overwhelming performance that conductor Semyon Bychkov gave last week in the basilica of Saint-Denis displayed to perfection, in it's alternate fragility and certainty, the pacifist ideals of the English composer. The emotion was palpable, hanging like a heavy cloud, impalpable and ephemeral, over the long seconds of perfect silence which followed the last note of this vast vocal and instrumental fresco. In the packed Gothic nave, both artist and spectator needed to catch his breath after such a journey of pain, rebellion and appeasement.
Emmanuelle Giuliani, La Croix
The combined forces were marshalled remarkably by Semyon Bychkov, who avoided the temptation to over-dramatize the work's internal dialogue, and who understood precisely how to mould the alternating powerful and intimate moments into a flawless continuity. The Orchestre National de France responded to him with enthusiasm and precision, finding the colours and balances to perfectly render this poignant masterpiece, which ended on a long-suspended pianissimo followed an immense silence, before received public applause which was more than deserved in response to this very beautiful and worthy interpretation of the moving War Requiem by Benjamin Britten.
Patrick Georges Montaigu, www.resmusica.com
Last week we were brought three times to the summit of orchestral music. [...] Their different personalities and musical approaches shared a common purpose: their presence drove the performers to reach the sublime. [...] At the Basilique de Saint-Denis, the former Chief of the Orchestre de Paris, Semyon Bychkov, made the acquaintance of the Orchestre National de France for Britten's poignant War Requiem. Appropriately his powerful and focused interpretation, without a hint of ostentation, left the conductor overwhelmed, almost incapable of raising a smile at the curtain calls.
Christian Merlin, Le Figaro
Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Semyon Bychkov offered a deeply thoughtful interpretation, nuanced and refined but without sacrificing any lyrical effusion or dramatic impetuosity. The finish was beautifully-achieved, with the sound fading very slowly, a gesture steeped in extreme sorrow but also imbued with an ineffable desire for peace.
Riccardo Cenci, Sera Italia
With palpable emotion, highlighted by those long seconds of suspension when the music has finished and only the echoes of sound remain in the air, but the conductor waits to lower the baton to signal the performance's true end and the beginning of applause, Semyon Bychkov had given the Santa Cecilia audience a magnificent rendition of the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten, a work of great emotional impact.
Franzina Ancona, Rinascita
In his interpretation, Semyon Bychkov emphasized with great tenacity the dynamics of the score, and judged shrewdly the interplay of the different levels of sound. [...] The sections in latin, evoking archaic medieval phrases, gave the impression of delicately coloured light, filtered through the windows of a cathedral. Among the most evocative moments of the proceedings were the antiphonal voices in the Offertorium, the melancholy melody of the Agnus Dei and the close of the Libera me. The words of the two soldiers, 'I am the enemy you killed, my friend', sent a long shiver of emotion. [...] At the end Bychkov imposed, with a moving gesture, a moment of silence.
Luigi Bellingardi, Corriere della Sera
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Semyon Bychkov [delivered] a wonderfully compelling account of Rachmaninov's swansong, [judging] ideally the tempo for the Non allegro first movement (it was indeed 'not fast') so as to integrate the rugged quick music and the nostalgic slower-expressed feelings, the latter adorned by Martin Robertson's plangent saxophone solo. The hallmark of Bychkov's conducting was to emphasise the 'symphonic' aspect of Rachmaninov's stimulating and sophisticated score; no need for applied Hollywood gloss, souped-up textures, gushing sentiments or ear-splitting fortissimos. This discriminating performance was illuminated from within, tensions were incremented across large spans, the music presented as dark, deep, Slavic and passionate; the second-movement waltz was a haunted ballroom, the music sinewy and troubled, Bychkov stretching the expression without distorting the line (the BBCSO admirably nimble in the coda); and the finale was a thrilling but not gratuitous ride to the abyss. With immaculate attention to detail and dynamics this was a performance to savour, one that suggests that the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Semyon Bychkov are forging a notable partnership. This was equally discernable during Detlev Glanert's orchestration and extension of Brahms's 'Four Serious Songs' (his penultimate opus, 121), which Bychkov conducted as a labour of love. [...] 'Vier Praludien und ernste Gesange' is a marvellous coming-together of two distinguished composers, here in an outstanding performance. [...]
Colin Anderson, www.classicalsource.com
Walton's Symphony No 1 proved interesting. Few conductors outside the British mainstream - Andre Previn, Bernard Haitink and David Zinman, most notably - have taken this work into their repertoire - and fewer still with the highly individual take on it that Bychkov showed here. It is a child of the 1930s, part cinematic showpiece, part Walton's bitter reflection on the personal and public angst of those years. Many performances drive it forwards in a gripping, two-dimensional race to the end. Bychkov gave it space, time to breathe and luxuriate in its orchestral textures, and explored a third dimension of background colours and emotions. It may not have been what Walton intended, but Bychkov's ideas were so thought through and so well conveyed by the players that, for the duration of this performance at least, they seemed wholly convincing.
Richard Fairman, Financial Times, 21 March 2011
[...] in this concert, the first of two under conductor Semyon Bychkov, [The Bells] seemed among the most sumptuous and exciting of Rachmaninov's works. [...] in the third, Loud Alarum Bells, Bychkov came into his own, whipping up chorus and orchestra into a tautly controlled depiction of spiralling panic. The BBCSO did an admirable impression of a hefty-voiced Russian ensemble; in the mournful finale, baritone David Wilson Johnson, a late but communicative stand-in for an absent Russian, was just as convincing.
Pairing this virtuoso score with a work as relentlessly demanding as Walton's Symphony No 1 might seem like sadism towards the orchestra, but the BBCSO were unfazed, and they maintained the tense rhythms of the Walton's opening with unflagging pace. It's a juggernaut of a symphony, but under Bychkov it sounded expansively, generously lyrical, as well as driven. This orchestra play wonderfully for him - and the audience, who maintained pin-drop silence until he relaxed at the end of each work, seem equally under his spell.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian, 22 March 2011
It takes a Russian soul to best understand [The Bells'] very particular melancholy and Semyon Bychkov worked wonders at freeing up both the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus [...] When the Russian populace sounded the 'alarum bells' of the third movement those chromatic implorations hurled us into the thick of a Boris Godunov crowd scene. It was a suitably earnest din. But the quiet elusiveness of the score was there, too: the humming chorus of the opening tableau, born of nostalgia but conveying only sorrow; the aching anticipation of the bride-to-be, silvery soprano Viktoria Yastrebova tempering rapture with viola-tinged apprehension; and David Wilson-Johnson looking back with regret as Bychkov found a deep and abiding solace in Rachmaninov's wonderful postlude.
Edward Seckerson, The Independent, 21 March 2011
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Schubert is about as Viennese as it gets, and as far as the VPO is concerned, his music is their music. Under Bychkov, the outer movements were light, nimble and suavely phrased. The second movement (a slower theme and variations, featuring a sweet oboe solo) was elegant, with a relaxed lilt. The third movement was unusually dark and aggressive for a minuet - but that's the way Schubert wrote it, and that's the way they played it. From start to finish, it was an excellent performance, charming and sophisticated. [...] the 'Prelude and Liebestod' from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde [...] was Bychkov's moment to shine - and shine he did, in an expansive, luxuriant interpretation that highlighted every ebb and flow in the score. [...] for Bartok's The Miraculous Mandarin suite [...] Bychkov emphasized the work's driving rhythms, while his musicians played as if their lives depended on it. [...] It was a standard-setting concert that won't likely be forgotten soon by anyone who heard it.
Colin Eatock, Toronto Globe and Mail, March 2011
Led by Russian-born conductor Semyon Bychkov, the orchestra on its final date of an eight-concert tour showed off everything the very model of a modern symphony can accomplish. Representing the 18th century was the 1815 Symphony No. 2 by Franz Schubert. [...] The Viennese presented a picture-perfect interpretation marked by a warm string sound, gorgeously honed work from the woodwinds and impressive precision. The third-movement minuet was a paragon of elegance. Rather than leaving Schubert's symphony feeling insubstantial next to the earth-shaking creations of Beethoven, Bychkov's interpretation told us in no uncertain terms that this was the Haydn and Mozart for a new century. The post-intermission music was devoted to the stage - and to the dramatic potential of love intertwined with death: the 'Prelude and Liebestod' from Richard Wagner's 1865 opera Tristan und Isolde, and the orchestral suite from the 1919 ballet The Miraculous Mandarin, by Bela Bartok. The two pieces of music couldn't be more different. Yet, in both, the maestro and his magnificent orchestra found a way to express the core message with absolute clarity. The swell of Wagner's music became a tidal wave of emotion portrayed in sound. Bartok's menacing propulsion snapped, crackled and popped with electricity. This is one concert everyone in the full house will remember for a long time.
John Terauds, www.thestar.com, March 2011
Brahms Symphony No. 2 is a piece [the Vienna Philharmonic has] been playing for 134 years - since 1877, when it gave the first performance, with Brahms present. Literally, it could play it in its sleep. And from this esteemed orchestra, that might be plenty. But that's when things started getting especially interesting. Conductor Semyon Bychkov was not about to go quietly. Instead, he shook things up. Bychkov sees his role as a collaborator rather than a dictator. And throughout the program, which also included Schumann's Symphony No. 2, the orchestra seemed to trust him completely. But during the Brahms symphony, especially in that final movement, the balance changed. Bychkov stepped forward, gradually demanding more and more of the orchestra's attention as he moved things slightly off center; contrasts were starker, tempo and dynamic extremes were stretched near the limit. The final movement's final section, rather than ending with a rush toward the buses, closed with an astonishing, prolonged burst of energy that had the orchestra smiling and the sold out audience standing. This is an ensemble that has an unusual role in music history, given its relationship with composers like Brahms. But rather than use this concert, its first in San Diego, as a history lesson, under Bychkov's leadership it made Schumann and Brahms sound fresh. If Schumann's symphonies are in danger of slipping off the classical hit parade, Bychkov made a strong case for Schumann's genius and vitality. As for Brahms, in this symphony considered by some to be downright cheery, Bychkov and the orchestra found the darkness underneath, showing a work of considerable emotional complexity. This wasn't Brahms 1877; it was Brahms 2011. And this wasn't the Vienna Philharmonic the legend; this was the Vienna Philharmonic the life force.
James Chute, San Diego Union-Tribune, March 2011
Bychkov [...] led an alert and complete interpretation. At no time did one feel that he wasn't getting exactly what he wanted from these players. What he wanted was strongly marked rhythms, sharp accents and incisively outlined phrases. He stopped to smell the roses in the lyrical passages and caressed the lullabies of the Andante warmly, but the argument never lagged, the momentum never lulled. There wasn't a mushy bar in the entire evening. Details in the orchestration popped out remarkably (this is one of Mahler's more thickly scored symphonies), without unnecessary underlining. The allegros proved properly relentless, but agile, not heavy. For those who prefer their Mahler with a dose of excess, this, perhaps, wasn't it. It was both a disciplined and strongly felt reading, Bychkov's baton technique no nonsense.
Timothy Mangan, Orange County Register, March 2011
The Vienna Philharmonic left nothing behind in its final performance at Zellerbach Hall Sunday. Confronting head-on the scouring depths, seizing frenzies, aching tenderness, and long vaulted arcs of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in A Minor, 'Tragic', the orchestra concluded its first visit to the Bay Area since 1987 with a vital and febrile account of this great work. Right from the start, the impact was forceful and brusque. Conductor Semyon Bychkov sent his players striding into the symphony's opening theme with a stamping, remorseless intensity. The cellos sounded armed for combat. The brasses cried out in warning. A wall of sound, like that of an approaching army, advanced into the hall.
If there was concern that Bychkov might create a series of dramatic or overblown effects at the expense of the whole, the 90 minutes of deep-grained music that followed dispelled it. His reading took the long view, building from that early assault to an excavation of what the composer called, after a final rehearsal of the piece in 1906, "the cruelties I've suffered and the pains I've felt." It's hard to imagine a performance more thoroughly, cathartically 'tragic' than this one.
The Scherzo had a glowering low center of gravity, eschewing the kind of raucous lilt this movement often gets. The moments of stark discord and even ugliness stood out more sharply and tellingly in relief. The Andante opened into a lustrous and layered solemnity, the strings gleaming darkly, the English horn keening inconsolably to itself. It all led inexorably toward the coruscating Finale. Here, with almost alarming candor, Bychkov and his players made us feel what Mahler must have felt during his bleakest hours. The storm clouds massed. Shafts of sunlight pierced through and vanished. The foreboding doom was inescapable. The percussion hammer blows and rhythmic death knells landed again and again, ever more decisively. The end came with a kind of animal ferocity, frightening and thrilling to witness.
Bychkov and the Vienna Philharmonic accomplished what only a truly great live performance can. They redrew the map of Mahler's Sixth, closing off certain well-traveled stretches and pushing out the borders elsewhere, opening new vistas.
Steven Winn, San Francisco Classical Voice, March 2011
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra concluded its three-day stint under the auspices of Cal Performances with a thunderous and darkly dramatic account of the Sixth Symphony [...] an impressive and even revelatory rendition. The imposing Viennese forces, mustered under the fluidly commanding leadership of conductor Semyon Bychkov, gave the most potent performance of their stay, marked by massive textures and fearlessly tragic rhetoric. [...] The Viennese took a clear position as gatekeepers of the tradition, giving the Sixth a reading that emphasized both the music's heart-wrenching emotional drama and the aptness of symphonic form to express that vein. The opening movement, with its fierce marches and abrasive harmonies, sounded terrifyingly raw. Yet the huge orchestra also moved with lyrical grace when the music demanded it - particularly in the slow movement, adorned with string playing of heart-stopping beauty and fullness. The finale, which alludes to the earlier movements in the context of a practically apocalyptic breakdown, tied things up with a formal fastidiousness that sounded almost at odds with the music's rhetorical clangor.
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, March 2011
[...] in the driving, convincing, loving performance [...] Bychkov concentrated on the meaning of the moment, giving shape and character to each little Mahlerian marvel, while keeping everything moving.
Mark Swed, LA Times, March 2011
No sooner had conductor Semyon Bychkov cued the beginning to Brahms' Second Symphony than a vibrant musical glow - warm but steely, expansive yet detailed - filled the reaches of Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. Shaped by the orchestra's plush strings and resonant horns, the symphony's slow introduction unfolded with serene, forward-moving eloquence. [...] Bychkov, whose approach to the standard orchestral repertoire is reliably eloquent and sometimes fascinatingly unorthodox, charted a cogent and compelling path through each work. The result was an invigorating and often brilliant showcase. [...] The 'Prelude and Liebestod' from Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde' built ineluctably from phrase to phrase and paragraph to paragraph, helped along by Bychkov's slow tempo and propulsive rhythmic palette. The most impressive fireworks came with an explosive and colorful rendition of Bartok's extroverted Suite from 'The Miraculous Mandarin'. Here there was little to do but gape in appreciative awe at the dexterity and bravado of the orchestra's mastery.
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, February 2011
This was a performance that made the densest passages of this difficult symphony fall upon the ear as clear and light. And the lighter passages were brimming with musical color and punch. [...] Bychkov chose to perform the symphony with the Scherzo as the second movement. That movement bloomed with the clarity of an alpine river - each note and musical phrase was savored as much as finely etched. The evolution of music from one section of the orchestra to another was seamless. Bychkov proved deft at coaxing elegant and emotional playing from the musicians during the pianissimo passages. But he also was able to communicate the great sweep of this cinemascopic-like work.
Bychkov, while conducting from memory, looked as if his connection to the Vienna musicians was a primal one. His paces were crisp but never hurried. In the dramatic Allegro that opens the work, Bychkov let the music play out without forcing any of the musical statements, and the same applied to the massive Finale. Except with the Finale, Bychkov was masterful in keeping the orchestra tightly wound around each musical idea, and this served to build the rising tension. The final statement of this bold work ends with one cleverly placed and plucked note. And the silence that descended after it was a note unto itself, too. Bychkov and orchestra honored that silence with seconds of absolute stillness. It was a note without a key. The moment was an example of how every inch of this great symphony had been given the greatest thought.
Edward Ortiz, Sacramento Bee, February 2011
It was easy to hear why the Philharmonic - a self-governing organization that invites its own choice of guest conductor for every concert it gives - chose this dynamic Russian to lead it on this visit. Bychkov is known for his ruthlessly driving Shostakovich. He doesn't conduct German music like that, though. Not only does he have a conception of how these works differ from Russian music, and from each other, but he's also able to implement that conception. His bounding energy was both plentiful and husbanded, and differently so in each work.
Schubert's Symphony No. 2 possessed enough raw spirit to remind the listener that it was written when Beethoven's brash and muscular Symphony No. 8 was the new thing. Sudden fortes jumped out, especially in the finale. This was nicely balanced by genial coasting with great good humor through other parts, especially the scherzo's trio and some of the variations in the slow movement. Little touches of dynamic flow, of sforzandos and echoing fades, further enlivened the piece.
The lushly romantic Prelude and 'Liebestod' from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde was more than casually spellbinding. The Prelude throbbed with rich string counterpoint. Bychkov began the 'Liebestod' slowly and with caution, and then added just a touch of lightness and speed, allowing the piece to build up in the true Wagnerian way. When the climax finally arrived, with previously aborted cadences tumbling through to completion, Bychkov emphasized brief, heavy ritardandos, stepping on the brakes to keep the emotional intensity under control.
David Bratman, San Francisco Classical Voice, February 2011
Schubert's Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, a relatively modest work, [...] was a way for this storied orchestra to show off, without swaggering. And with Semyon Bychkov on the podium Friday [...] Symphony No. 2 snapped into shape. The winds intoned, pungently. The strings began whisking through the perpetual-motion figurations of the Allegro vivace, and there it was: the much advertised Vienna Phil sound, exceptionally unified, mellow as a rum toddy, yet served up with exuberance and pleasure. [...] In Schubert's andante, a set of variations, Bychkov drew the music into a fine balance: For instance, pizzicato cellos set just so against liltingly bowed violins, with a touch of silvery flute and an underlining of horns. The scherzo displayed bounding rhythmic definition. The finale was dynamically varied and light-footed, the orchestra breathing through accelerations that only sounded easy.
One can only guess how many hundreds of times the Vienna Philharmonic has played Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from the opera 'Tristan und Isolde'. Yet Friday's performance brought the piece into excruciating focus - and that's meant as a compliment, as the work essentially is 18 minutes of foreplay leading to a final love-death explosion. It's easy to miscalibrate the ebb and flow. Bychkov did not miscalibrate. His rapport with the musicians was clear; he is a collaborative leader. No wonder the orchestra - which for the past 80 years has operated solely with guest conductors, from Toscanini to Dudamel - keeps reaching for Bychkov.
Richard Scheinin, Mercury News, February 2011
Mahler's Sixth can mean something evil, an orgy of loudness, and in the worst case a tasteless kind of acoustic baring of the soul. Nowhere in his oeuvre is the composer closer to heavy-handedly stating the obvious. [...] Bearing this in mind, the recent performance of the Sixth in the Philharmonic Subscription Concert was little short of terrific, in that it was free of even the slightest hint of self-pity ... Semyon Bychkov was at the podium, notoriously underrated, a truly excellent conductor, he enables the players of the Philharmonic to make music, breath in the most natural way, develop phrases and enjoy the climaxes. He achieves this without forcing anything, neither the tempo nor the dynamic, and especially not by sentimentality ... Even the finale, which often goes slightly over the top, had a coherent, architecturally solid structure.
Die Presse, 20 February 2011
Even with all its connotations, the term 'sensory overload' is still the most appropriate way to describe the gigantic work that is Mahler's Symphony No 6. [...] Conductor Semyon Bychkov made the Golden Hall quiver with tragedy: thanks to intense rubati in the solos (which were particularly beautiful in the melodies of the winds) the performance was convincing from the opening bars of the Allegro energico. Without forcing anything, neither the tempo nor the dynamic, and especially not by sentimentality ... even the finale, which often goes slightly over the top, had a coherent, architecturally solid structure.
Wiener Zeitung, 22 February 2011
The three works are extremely different. To play all three in one evening presents not only potential problems of dramatic coherence, but also a challenge for a conductor and orchestra to adapt to the particular soundworld of each. On Wednesday neither problem presented any difficulty: [...] the orchestra and its conductor showed they had plenty of stamina for the ample bowing of Schubert. Their long breath had been taken to the limits in the prelude to 'Tristan und Isolde' and even more in Isoldes Liebestod, where Bychkov displayed the art of keeping the audience's tension for what felt like an eternity after the end, and again astonishingly at the end of the Bartok. [...] [In the Bartok] the orchestra produced colourful flexibility and delicate songful lines. Where necessary, it certainly played with hectic violence so that it was hardly credible that the same orchestra had just excelled in Wagner's endless song.
Der Standard, 18 February 2011
The audience was treated to a compelling interpretation of the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. Bychkov, who is in demand at opera houses throughout the world conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, also known as the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, but this time completely without sets and still managed to create suspense from the very opening chords of the Prelude. [...] The sound world of Bela Bartok's ballet suite from the Miraculous Mandarin was even more vivid. Thanks to Bychkov's elegant conducting, one of Bartok's most radical and aggressive pieces was surprisingly melodic and multifaceted: on the one hand, the orchestra represented the nerve-wracking noise of the big city, while the now excellent woodwind represented the 'seduction' which quickly changed to the harrowingly loud, screaming eviction of the 'tramps'. Adding to the pandemonium, the suite closes in fortissimo. Even the audience was baffled and forgot to cough when the roar was suddenly hushed. They wanted more, and not for the piece to end.
Die Presse, 17 February 2011
St Louis Symphony Orchestra
Bychkov leads stunning Mahler 6th.
The last time this massive, meaningful work was heard here was in 1998, making its return overdue. Semyon Bychkov, in the second of his two weeks as guest conductor, proved a good choice to lead it. [...] Bychkov, his feet planted firmly on the podium, controlled his tightly packed forces effortlessly, getting big results from a tiny twitch of the baton, and rarely needing to make the sweeping gestures upon which many conductors depend. His reading brought out everything from the work's considerable lyricism to its earsplitting elements, and kept it all tightly together, for a wholly meaningful musical journey.
John Huxhold - St Louis Post-Dispatch, February 2011
During the thoroughly deserved standing ovation that followed Friday's performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 6 by Semyon Bychkov and the St. Louis Symphony, my wife turned to me and remarked, 'Well - that was thrilling.' And so it was. [...] The emotional and sonic range of this symphony is massive - a fact which has tempted some conductors to personalize an already idiosyncratic work by exaggerating the highly charged drama. Happily, Mr. Bychkov does not appear to be one of them. I had the strong sense that he was letting Mahler speak for himself, bringing out all the intense emotion and loving details in the music without ever calling too much attention to the process. [...] Every detail was perfectly in place, and the entire package neatly wrapped up by Mr. Bychkov. What a gift for all of us!
Chuck Lavazzi, http://stageleft-stlouis.blogspot.com, February 2011
Bychkov more than lived up to his reputation with winning performances of Schubert's Symphony No. 2 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, bracketing a barn-burner of a Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2 by Mr. Gerstein. It wasn't what you'd call an adventurous program, but it was certainly an entertaining one. [...] Watching Mr. Bychkov conduct both of these Viennese masterpieces without a score made it that much easier to appreciate the way he interacted with the orchestra. There was an obvious rapport and two-way communication with the players. Mr. Bychkov's style seems to favor precision over large gestures, even in a cheerfully aggressive work like the Shostakovich concerto, and the approach served the music well. [...] Their reading [of the Shostakovich] had a snap and precision that was a joy to behold, and got an appropriately enthusiastic response from the audience.
Chuck Lavazzi, http://stageleft-stlouis.blogspot.com, February 2011
[Bychkov] stands on the podium, feet spread wide, rarely moving them as if they are buried in sand. All the movement is in his upper body and arms, his wrists being the most active part. His baton technique is wonderfully fluid and economically precise. The right hand not only beats time but also flicks out little cues here and there to signal an entrance or pull an inner voice more forward. Meanwhile the left hand doesn't simply drop to lower the volume but spirals down, mimicking a tempo, a melody or a rhythm along the way. As a result you sometimes get the feeling he has more than two arms, which makes him fascinating to watch. Technique is one thing, but results are another and they were impressive. Most prominent was a sense of balance; the various sections of the orchestra spoke as one solid voice in equal proportion unless he signaled otherwise to allow a shy phrase to speak up. The outer movements of the Beethoven sounded lean and fleet without being thin or rushed. [...] Bychkov gave the impression of being in complete control, summoning every last bit of finesse and power that this great orchestra can deliver.
John Huxhold - St Louis Post-Dispatch, February 2011
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Performances by Bychkov in Amsterdam are scarce. His last dates with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra were back in the eighties. But this week he was here once again. Yesterday, he conducted the Eleventh Symphony of Shostakovich and Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 with Joshua Bell as soloist. [...] Should you go? Should you turn on the radio? Certainly you should. As demonstrated in an exemplary performance of the Bruch, Bychkov is a restrained but beautiful moulder of orchestral colour, who conjured wonderful string sound in the Adagio. [...] After the break followed by a crushing interpretation of Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony 'The Year 1905' [...] Bychkov and the orchestra impressed hugely. From the wrenching opening chorale in the first movement to the desperate dance of death in the finale the tension was palpable.
Erik Voermans - Het parool, January 2011
Bychkov, [...] returned to Amsterdam for the first time in fifteen years to confront the immense and heterogeneous Shostakovich Eleventh Symphony. [...] The contrast between extreme violence and icy symphonic strings makes this work especially stubborn. But Bychkov knows how to spin unbroken long lines, and inject clarity in the most complex passages. Hopefully he will come back more frequently
Mischa Spel - NRC Handlesblad, January 2011
Better performances of the two works you'll probably very rarely encounter. [...] Bell and Bychkov had the audience transfixed in the transition from the first to the second movement [of the Bruch concerto]. Magic then took possession of the hall, where at times no-one dared to breathe. Bychkov then marshalled the score of Shostakovich's Eleventh with a masterly hand. In the final movement, after all the violence, the music fell silent, and there was the beautiful cor anglais of Jan Kouwenhoven - plaintive, like the idiot in Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov.
Peter van der Lint - Trouw, January 2011
Bychkov unveiled a great interpretation of the symphony that bears the nickname 'The Year 1905' about the failed revolution in Russia. The increasingly grim mood in the Eleventh was interrupted by a heavenly solo by the violas, which built the tension even more. Each eruption pointed to an inevitable fatal end. With similar finesse the orchestra accompanied the American violinist Joshua Bell in the Violin Concerto by Bruch.
Lonneke Regter - De Volkskrant, January 2011
San Francisco Symphony
Bychkov's approach was a revelation. After the massive fugue, evenly and strongly conducted like Klemperer at his best, Bychkov drew such weight from the repeated brass exclamations, and so revelled in holding their power, that the repetitions became an essential part of their cumulative effect. Taken a hair more slowly than usual, they mesmerized, and just as the symphony had seemed to set forth within a dream, it concluded with a powerful hypnotic swirl. This was simply the finest performance of the Walton First Symphony I have ever heard
The Berkshire Review, October 2010
Semyon Bychkov('s) newly frequent guest-conducting stints are always exciting affairs. Friday's concert in Davies Symphony Hall by the San Francisco Symphony, a sleek and provocative program of works by Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Walton, was no exception
San Francisco Chronicle, October 2010
The conductor frequently managed to bewitch. Yielding completely to the Andante's lyricism, Bychkov tapped deep reserves of orchestral warmth and tenderness. And his flexible, robust hand in the final Allegro made for a turbulent episode in which the music was practically at odds with itself - satiny figures jostling with bold, brutish declamations.
Cleveland.com, October 2010
Filarmonica della Scala Tour with Lang Lang
...All the more evident was that Bychkov was perfectly attuned to his soloist. Tense and dramatic, the Filarmonica performed splendidly, shining in each of the sections.
LA STAMPA, September 2010
Ovations for Bychkov and la Scala in a sold out performance
The orchestra, which followed Semyon Bychkov's baton to the minutest detail, demonstrated splendid playing with supple precision and subtlety. This was evident in the perfect balancing of the sections, which revealed technical excellence and pinpoint clarity.
The Russian conductor demonstrated extraordinary concentration and profound analysis. Bychkov's Wagner appeared meditative and strongly internalised, while always ready to loosen up in pleading, grandiose élan. His Bartók was sculpted with tremulous vivacity of phrasing, with down to earth explosions of colour.
Bychkov’s Tchaikovsky was animated by anti-rhetorical introspection and, while always within dynamic control, was performed with sensual elegance in the central movements, and throbbing tensions in the first and last movements, with precise melodic lines and exquisite phrasing.
L'ARENA, September 2010
...alongside Lang Lang was the luxurious accompaniment of the Filarmonica della Scala. Here, also the concentration was total, with both soloist and orchestra reacting simultaneously to the direction of conductor, Semyon Bychkov. This elegant Russian conductor completely understands how to move within the meanderings of Tchaikovsky's score, achieving evocative sounds and unsettling pianissimi. This was especially evident in the 'Pathetique', Tchaikovsky's last symphony, which was performed after the interval... Bychkov's approach was completely coherent and praiseworthy, with an unfailing capacity to resolve the strange union positioned between elegance and a sense of death, which is an essential element of Tchaikovsky's artistry.
LA PREALPINA, September 2010
The performance of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony was much admired. Semyon Bychkov provided excellent leadership and conducted the Filarmonica della Scala orchestra in an exemplary manner, with the members of the orchestra following him down to the smallest detail.
LA PROVINCIA di Como, September 2010
Bychkov quickly showed his sense for Brahms' distinctive sound, where the music seemingly flows in two different directions - a reserved impulse that works against a strong force. Yet, the reserved element is never felt as a kind of hindrance. Instead, it curbs and accentuates the expression which steadily smolders and powerfully carries the music forward. It is as if in this way -- channeled by Brahms's wonderful, melodic footprint and with both parts completely special to this composer -- the music grabs you.
It was this intriguing excitement that Bychkov tackled so well and made the orchestra's part more than just a foundation for the two soloists who, for their part, stood out brilliantly.
Walton asked for music of a completely different kind in his 'First Symphony' - more amorphous, edgy, and actually quite 'unBritish' in expression. I mean this as a compliment.
Bychkov steered the stream of notes confidently and with authority, making the music in it shine through, particularly in the slow and complex Third Movement.
Dagbladet, September 2010
Within seconds of turning his attention away from Germany and Brahms and towards England and William Walton, Conductor Semyon Bychkov's dramatically changed the feeling of the entire concert. Walton's wonderful music, a mixture of Sibelius and Debussy, imprinted with English melancholy and brass, suited both the conductor and the orchestra.
The third movement was the concert's highpoint. Here, Bychkov and the Philharmonic managed to tell a powerful story, even without us completely understanding what it was about. And so, what did I think about that? Every little theme was played with character and broad sound while, all the while, the music was driven forward and developed. And, Bychkov was the music's strict but friendly bard who, with epic authority, created suspense and then held back again when necessary.
Aftenposten, September 2010
Absolutely invigorating! The evening's conductor, Semyon Bychkov, had an excellent connection with the musicians.
The Culture Mirror, September 2010