The BBC Symphony Orchestra are Inspired by Semyon Bychkov

15/01/2016

Glanert, Haydn, and Brahms: Paul Watkins (cello), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Semyon Bychkov (conductor). Barbican Hall, London, 12.1.2016. (MB)

Detlev Glanert – Brahms-Fantasie – ‘heliogravure’ for orchestra
Haydn – Cello Concerto no.1 in C major
Brahms – Symphony no.1 in C minor, op.68

The BBC Symphony Orchestra is fortunate indeed to have Semyon Bychkov as a regular collaborator; he holds the orchestra’s Günter Wand Conducting Chair. In this concert, we heard what a difference a great conductor makes to these players. The depth of string tone almost had one believe this was one of the great German orchestras, and that was not simply a matter of numbers.

One certainly heard that to good advantage in Detlev Glanert’s Brahms-Fantasie. The opening disintegration of Brahms augured well, perhaps echoing Henze’s Tristan. However, the rest meandered in drearily neo-Romantic fashion (the work rather than the performance), hovering somewhere between Shostakovich and Khatchaturian. A spot of sub- – very sub-! – Heldenleben battle-music sounded merely incongruous. This was not merely eclectic, but eclecticism with a vengeance – and, more to the point, without any apparent point. The performance seemed excellent, but I cannot imagine anyone wanting to hear the work again.

Haydn, then, was just the tonic we needed. Cultivated playing announced itself from the opening bars of his First Cello Concerto. A sensible tempo – God be thanked! – was adopted, Paul Watkins responding very much in kind. His playing as soloist was lively, characterful, full of joy in a melodious gift that almost approaches that of Mozart (although the music never really sounds ‘like’ his in what is, in every respect, a pre-Mozartian concerto). Thematic construction and development were, quite rightly, the thing. It was again an immense relief to have the aria-like slow movement not taken too fast. It flowed as it would have done from a great singer in a performance of surpassing elegance. The finale possessed many of the virtues of the first movement, including a well-chosen (of course, faster) tempo, which permitted the music to breathe. Excitement was musical rather than externally, artificially applied to it as in so many contemporary Haydn performances. Watkins’s virtuosity was not of the high-octane variety; it was full of musical life. As was that of the orchestra.

Brahms’s First Symphony opened in medias res; there was no doubting its tragic import, at least here. There was freshness too, similarly an allied Romantic intimacy, not least from the cellos (a nice link there, consciously or otherwise, with the Haydn). The exposition proper likewise exhibited a Schumannesque Romanticism one rarely hears here. This was, on the whole, quite a brisk account, but not unduly so, for Bychkov ensured impressive responsiveness to the composer’s twists and turns – which are many! It is surely as ‘difficult’ a work as the First String Quartet, although perhaps rather more ingratiating. I loved the archaisms from reedy woodwind, supported and/or modified by brass: very nineteenth-century Bach! Developmental struggle itself, though, was quite rightly more Beethovenian in character, if not necessarily sounding ‘like’ Beethoven. Consciously or otherwise, intervallic relationships signalled close kinship with Webern. Melancholic lyricism, often cruelly foreshortened, was, however, entirely Brahms’s own.

The second movement was, again, quite swift, though not unreasonably so. There was no lack of involvement in any sense: emotional, motivic, rhythmic (those cross-rhythms!) Harmonic shifts told their own story: both in the moment and in the longer term. A beautifully-played violin solo from Giovanni Guzzo was not the least pleasure here. The third movement was warmer, more spring-like than autumnal, at least to begin with. Darker undercurrents were not ignored, but I wondered whether they might have been made more of; that, however, might not have been so consistent with Bychkov’s conception of the work. Again, the music was taken quickly, but flowing rather than being harried.

Darkness proper returned at the opening of the finale, thematic reminiscences darkening the mood further. That most difficult of transitions was well handled, trombones sounding splendid, as did the horns. And yet, it was difficult not to feel that something was missing: there was less at stake, so it sounded, than with a great account such as Furtwängler’s or, latterly, Barenboim’s. Moreover, a few gear changes were a little less subtle than they might have been. Here, and only here, the music did not sound more than the sum of its considerable parts. There was no doubting, however, the excellence of the playing Bychkov drew from the orchestra.

Mark Berry

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2018 Season Begins Soon __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018/19 Birmingham Classical Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe Star in The King and I at the London Palladium __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 BBC Proms __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella __________________________________
  • NEW! Pop-Up Opera’s 2018 Mozart Double Bill __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Abandoned Liszt Opera Sardanapalo Premieres in Weimar in August __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! MARKUS POSCHNER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Massenet’s Thaïs at the Cadogan Hall on 23 June __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli Sings for Chelsea Pensioners, at Cadogan Hall, and Signs for Sony/ATV __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • NEW! MICHAEL SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Trinity Laban Moves to Abolish All-Male Composer Concerts __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR LAURENCE EQUILBEY IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month