Prom 56: BBCSO/Bychkov – review

Royal Albert Hall, London

Richard Strauss's early Burleske for piano and orchestra has never become a repertory staple, but it was chosen as an unusual upbeat to this Prom's main event – the epic tragedy of Mahler's vast Sixth Symphony. Conductor Semyon Bychkov did his duty by the piece, which never really marshals its patchy material to best effect. At this stage – Strauss was just 21 when he wrote it – the influences on his music of both Brahms and Liszt remain undigested. Yet its strange and not entirely convincing amalgam of quirky, idiosyncratic humour with refined lyricism found a notable exponent in soloist Kirill Gerstein, who attacked its virtuoso demands with a combination of brilliance and sensitivity.

It was inevitably dwarfed by the Mahler in the second half. 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 ensuing 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, here on their ninth challenging programme of the current season. The expanded brass section was bold and tireless, the woodwind solos vividly characterised, and the strings supplied a tonal warmth that retained a distinctive patina in the hesitant melodic flow of the slow movement. The large percussion battery attacked their multifarious interventions with all the requisite panache.

Mahler experts and interpreters will continue to dispute the ideal order of the two inner movements, and whether or not the finale should contain a third hammer blow. Bychkov placed the scherzo second and did away with what Alma Mahler referred to as the third "blow of fate" – choices that were entirely vindicated in this memorable performance.

Tweet your reviews

The Guardian's team of critics will be reviewing every Prom this year and we'd love to hear your verdict, too. Every Prom will be broadcast live on Radio 3, or via the Proms website (you can also listen again for up to seven days after each concert). Send us your thoughts on the comments thread under each review, or tweet your reviews using hashtag #gdnproms. We'll collect the best together in a weekly blog on


George Hall

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Prom 41: BBCSO/Wigglesworth – review

Mark Wigglesworth proved once again what a very special conductor he is in this re-creation of an all-Britten concert, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

15, Aug, 2011 @10:24 AM

Prom 51: BBCSO/Dausgaard – review

Kevin Volans's new piano concerto is a strikingly attractive and engaging piece and was played by Barry Douglas with brilliance and precision, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

23, Aug, 2011 @10:15 AM

Prom 70: BBCSO/Robertson – review
The UK premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's wonderfully rich violin concerto was the second remarkable performance by Christian Tetzlaff at this year's Proms, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

08, Sep, 2011 @11:13 AM

Prom 19: BBCSO/Knussen – review

Knussen's typically eclectic all-20th century programme was played with breathtaking clarity and precision, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

31, Jul, 2011 @5:05 PM

Prom 32: BBCSO/Gardner – review
Soloist Christian Tetzlaff let the music live, breathe and sing with a directness that few can equal today, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

08, Aug, 2011 @9:52 AM

Prom 34: BBCSO/Bychkov – review
The BBC Symphony Orchestra played for Semyon Bychkov with fresh ambition in the first concert since his newly announced position with them, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

09, Aug, 2012 @4:06 PM

Prom 61: BBCSO/Robertson/Ma – review
Graham Fitkin's bespoke concerto for Yo-Yo Ma began magically but never really delivered, writes Erica Jeal

Erica Jeal

01, Sep, 2011 @10:48 AM

Prom 24: Little/BBCSO/BBC Singers/Davis – review
A quintessential Proms programme executed with relish by Andrew Davis but let down by a weak Elgar violin concerto, writes Guy Damman

Guy Dammann

03, Aug, 2011 @1:22 PM

Classical review: Prom 46 – BBCSO/Bychkov | Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall, London
The selections may have made for unusual bedfellows, but the playing and conducting was faultless, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

20, Aug, 2009 @9:00 PM

Article image
Prom 75: BBCSO/Alsop – review

Marin Alsop's historic occupancy of the podium for the Last Night of the Proms energised the event musically and politically, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

08, Sep, 2013 @12:57 PM