Bychkov and the BBC Symphony Orchestra Excel in Rarely-Heard Taneyev

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beloved Friend: Tchaikovsky ProjectKirill Gerstein (piano); BBC Symphony Orchestra / Semyon Bychkov (conductor). Barbican Hall, London, 24.10.2016. (CC)

Tchaikovsky – Serenade for Strings in C, Op.48; Piano Concerto No.3 in E flat, Op.75

Taneyev – Overture The Oresteia, Op.6

TchaikovskyFrancesca da Rimini, Op.32

The most recent concert in Semyon Bychkov’s Tchaikovsky Project ‘Beloved Friend’ provided a fascinating mix of Tchaikovsky and the under-rated Taneyev in rather mixed performances. Broadly speaking, the music making only really took off in the second half. Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings was heard with antiphonal violins and with the double-basses lined up against the back of the hall to provide spine to the music. It was a shame that the upper strings of the BBCSO sounded so thin and wiry from the stalls and phrasing was less than suave. The occasional scrappy moment in the first movement spoke of lack of rehearsal, something that bled into the second movement Waltz, which also seemed to be distinctly lacking in charm. A pity also that the strings did not have the tonal depth for the Elegy (the violas seemed to have the best sound by far), while the finale headed towards, without achieving, the tender.

Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto is really a torso, a one-movement Allegro brillante. Kirill Gerstein’s tone was rather brittle – he played on a Steinway, reading the score off an iPad. The movement is dominated by a huge cadenza – Gerstein certainly had the finger dexterity required, but again the chords lacked the requisite depth. It was a fine experience to have the opportunity to hear the piece, but there was rather the feeling there was more to it than what we heard; while there is no denying Gerstein’s virtuosity, I hold out for more interpretative depth to his playing.

Sergei Taneyev’s Overture to The Oresteia is actually not the overture to the opera (although it was originally intended as such). It is an extended piece, not too far off twenty minutes, and right from the off there is no doubting the seriousness of the subject. The chthonic opening with its dramatic punctuating chords, the horn trills underlining fortissimos, contrast with moments of extreme beauty, including some lovely violin solos. Apollo’s theme, on flutes, is very expansive and full of hope. The piece includes extremes of emotion: here, the BBC orchestra was beautifully responsive, its sound much fuller. Perhaps this is where the rehearsal time was spent?

Finally, we heard Tchaikovsky’s sprawling Francesca da Rimini. Though not as tightly structured a piece as the far more famous Romeo and Juliet, it can nevertheless make a devastating effect (as Stokowski so conclusively proved, for example). Here there was a great amount of detail and fervour to the performance (and a beautiful clarinet solo representing Francesca from Richard Hosford certainly merits mention) while the careful balancing of the woodwind and brass once more pointed towards careful preparation.

There is no doubting the worth of Bychkov’s project. While it was a pity the concert was rather uneven it was wonderful nonetheless to be reminded of the stature of Taneyev’s writing.

Colin Clarke

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