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4th February 2018

Classical Source

Peter Reed

Semyon Bychkov’s downbeat to start Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony was like a spade slicing deep into the earth for the composer’s hero’s grave, and, ignoring the advice “when you’re in a hole, stop digging”, Bychkov never let up in a searing performance that wove together the epic and the personal with exceptional clarity. The spectacle of vast forces crammed on to the Barbican Hall’s platform might seem to work against the cosmic distances Mahler evokes, but the degree of detail Bychkov drew from the LSO in terms of mobility and focus ensured that the general thrust of Mahler’s programme (which he eschewed after the first performance) loomed inescapably.

And, while the Hall might not have much in the way of resonance, Bychkov and the LSO compensated with lovingly crafted rubato and subtle shifting of viewpoint, with the result that the first movement’s ‘Todtenfeier’ (Funeral Rites, the original name) had exceptional dynamism, not least in the massive and terrifying collapse into the void before the opening’s music reasserts itself. The nigh-on five-minute pause, as requested by Mahler but infrequently adhered to, was here indispensable, although the memory of such ferocity was hardly dispelled by the Ländler second movement, which was effectively hijacked by the force of its second Trio, with the pizzicato return to the minuet/waltz, played with imperturbable delicacy, leaving the most ghostly of impressions.

It left St Anthony’s preaching to the fishes in the third movement mercilessly exposed, its biting swipes at the futility of existence driven hard by Bychkov’s incisive beat. The shift up to D-flat for the start of ‘Urlicht’ is one of the great Mahler moments, and Anna Larsson placed it perfectly, a bridge between two worlds. Bychkov went on to energise the Finale’s conflict brilliantly, although I do wonder if having the off-stage brass playing from backstage is the most satisfactory option – even so, the woodwinds went into spectacular free-fall against their not-so-distant music from beyond.

The move into the choral music was imperceptible, with the members of the London Symphony Chorus (from memory) producing a sound so disembodied you wondered how they breathed. Christiane Karg’s soprano emerged out of the choir seamlessly, and the urgency in her singing contrasted powerfully with Larsson’s sonorous alto. Whatever your view on Mahler’s religion and philosophy in this Symphony, this account left you in no doubt that life is not a rehearsal.

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29th January 2018

The orchestra responded to Bychkov’s every gesture, the horn section in particular stealing the limelight from the rest of the orchestra […]

Bychkov is recording all the Tchaikovsky symphonies with his new orchestra (as from 2018/2019), the Czech Philharmonic. He has already performed several Tchaikovsky symphonies around the world, in Amsterdam, New York and London, to great critical acclaim. On the strength of this performance alone, I shall certainly purchase the boxed set when it appears. Tchaikovsky suits Bychkov.  Yet again it was the quartet of blended horns (led by Ivo Gass and Mischa Greull), opening the symphony, who were resplendent, aided and abetted by the rest of the brass. Bychkov shaped the quiet passages with precision and built up the climaxes in thrilling fashion. The melancholic Andantino tugged at our heartstrings, particularly Simon Fuchs’ sublime and crystal-clear oboe solo. The strings revelled in their delightful pizzicato Scherzo, followed by the crash-bang-wallop start of the Finale, never crude, always rousing; it was all great fun.

At the end it was the orchestra who stamped their feet in admiration of the man who had shown us all the greatness and complexity of this ever ‘popular’ work; the audience cheered him long and hard, and he was clearly moved by the warm reception. It was only a pity that there were so many empty seats, even allowing for the fact that the concert is repeated three times. Too many music-lovers had missed a great performance. Hopefully Zurich will see more of Bychkov in years to come.

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26th January 2018

Bachtrack

Rolf Kyburz

“Why only now, at 65?”, One might have wondered before the belated Tonhalle debut of St. Petersburg-born, Semyon Bychkov, and even more emphatically at the end of the standard-setting performances of the evening.  Richard Strauss has long been part of his core repertoire and Bychkov’s interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony left nothing to be desired.

 

…  After the short welcome applause, the Maestro, who conducted by heart, raised his baton to start the concert with Strauss’ Don Juan and, with his rising fortissimo gesture, opened the concert at a volume that was almost too much for these ears. It took a while to adjust to Bychkov’s expansive dynamics, but his interpretation captivated the momentum, drama, fluid tempos, and expressive rubato of the work.  The performance was romantic, but never bombastic, with a flexible appraoch that allowed time for priorities. The great ensemble of the Tonhalle Orchestra was on excellent form, from the percussion, the excellent brass and woodwind, to the dense and homogeneous string sound. The solo violin remained within the Orchestra, but audible still. Bychkov had both phrasing and dynamics under control.   Despite the density of its colours, the sound remained transparent, displaying the acoustical advantages of the hall. The latter helped the brass produce a very impressive performance – the volume of the four horns making one believe that there were at least twice as many instruments involved!  It was a thoroughly inspiring interpretation, during which the tension never subsided, and made one understand why the work caused such a sensation at its premiere. Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony opened with glittering fanfares that were similar to those at the beginning of the concert.   However, following this wake-up call Bychkov transferred us to the Russia of the late 19th century, with an interpretation of rare unity and power of persuasion – fluent in tempo, dense, legato and soft articulation, alternating between dramatic forward thrust and epic latitude,  towards waiting thoughtfulness. Bychkov used sweeping rubato – with large, expressive dynamic bowing – to draw out the fine and delicate places, where Tchaikovsky anticipates the Capriccio Italian.  He inspired the musicians to form a compelling, dramatic whole from the monstrous opening movement. The tempo of the following Andantino was absolutely natural, fluent and yet with the necessary calm and accents, which were both contemplative and emotionally expressive. In the central Più mosso Bychkov took his time, and kept the breadth of expression.  In the same way that the interpretation did not strive for pure beauty, the scherzo, Pizzicato ostinato, was never just a virtuoso show, but extremely differentiated and expressive dynamically, almost dramatic. Only the beginning of the Meno mosso seemed initially slightly stiff, but the woodwind’s virtuosic solo interjections were spellbinding. The final movement, which began with a real bang, formed the crowning, colorful end to the orchestral masterpiece and a memorable concert.

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24th January 2018

Classical Source

Colin Anderson

Put simply I don’t know a finer conductor today of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Manfred Symphony than Semyon Bychkov. In recent years, whether at the Royal Academy of Music or with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (as far as London is concerned), Bychkov has proved himself a master of one of Tchaikovsky’s supreme scores, a Symphony composed between the Fourth and Fifth, and a legitimate part of any complete cycle.

With the Czech Philharmonic in wonderful form, superbly virtuosic and musically certain and sensitive, relishing some of Tchaikovsky’s most imaginative, descriptive and sophisticated orchestration, Bychkov certainly commands the power and passion of the music as well as its delicacy and lyricism […]

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