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Performances

Semyon Bychkov [Photo by Renske Vrolijk]
03 Dec 2016

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Semyon Bychkov [Photo by Renske Vrolijk]

 

Perhaps it was their intermediate break, but the Mahler performance tonight felt a bit lackluster. It was Composer-in-Residence Detlev Glanert’s thrilling Theatrum Bestiarium that left me most impressed as I biked home that evening.

My expectations for Bychkov’s Mahler debut were quite high, after I witnessed his growing sterling synergy with the RCO in previous seasons with Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie and Ein Heldenleben. Each exuberant and sweeping me off my feet. Tonight he missed that cohesion and brilliance. Bychkov’s reached a graceful, but demure ambience. More nobly restrained than fiery; chivalrous rather than heated. Overall each segment was decent in musical beauty, but never moving.

A highlight included Omar Tomasoni’s trumpet solos. In the opening Trauermarsch he served up moments of brilliance with a devoted air, producing some sour shrills. He ruled the first movement and later returned with more of his distinct curvy phrasing with his intensity consistently growing in verve and resonance. Such stamina!

Mahler’s Fifth contains arguably his most Romantic music in the Adagietto. Mengelberg was an ambassador for Mahler’s work, who conducted this symphony in Amsterdam in 1906. This fourth movement is a love letter to his wife Alma, as she wrote to the Titan Mengelberg about a poem on longing included by her husband.

The Adagietto has enormous power to disarm through the dreamy harp and lush strings. With all its decency, Bychkov’s influence did not reach emotive depth; his conducting expressive, authentically passionate without overreacted theatricality. His result made for more of a soothing experience, rather than capturing Mahler’s swooning Romance.

Before the intermission, I was surprised by my enjoyment of Detlev Glanert’s Theatrum Bestiarum. Glanert suggests this work as a precursor to his opera Caligula. I felt pleasantly uprooted by its violent momentum. This is the third time the RCO scheduled this work. I grow more fond of it with every performance.

“In Theatrum bestiarum I visit a zoo of human beings,” Glanert declared. At many moments I could envision his concept. This “dark and wild series of “Songs and Dances for Large Orchestra”, in which the audience looks in upon the dissection of man as beast,‟ opens with psychological horror through incisive strings burning with fire. Glanert dedicated this work to Shostakovich, and his Eleventh Symphony seems of particular influence. It also reminded me of the violence of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score.

As a guest performer visiting, Erwin Wiersinga mastered the Concertgebouw’s legendary Maarschalkerweerd Organ. His thunderous volume just as impressive as the subtleties of the calmer passages.

The twenty-two minute piece premiered in 2005. Glanert said his compositional inspiration comes from the “simple and dramatic sense of Mahler’s structure.” This contrasts is evident in the emotional drama: from powerful fortissimos to jazzy pianissimo phrases, while the winds section lands on cushioning strings. Bychkov conducted with strict tempi, highly focused yet still more expressive in sound than in Mahler later.

It’s encouraging to hear the RCO programming this work more frequently, as it becomes part of its repertoire. Combining it with Mahler provides an enriching contrast for both works. After the much lauded world premiere of his Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch earlier this month, this programming proved yet another fruitful collaboration between the RCO and its Composer-in-Residence Detlev Glanert.

The folks in NYC and DC will be in for a treat when the Amsterdam entourage performs across the Atlantic.

David Pinedo

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