Friday, September 3, 2021, Royal Albert Hall, London
Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 7.30 p.m.
Overture-Concerto-Symphony: a tried and trusted concert arrangement, although the former genre tends to be in short supply these days, so Beethoven’s Coriolan (for Heinrich von Collin’s play rather than Shakespeare’s) was welcome, especially in this unanimously started performance, Semyon Bychkov securing a ‘modern’ take on it: full-toned, unrushed but dramatic, purposeful tread and beguiling lyricism welded as an entity and directed to a heady denouement and eerie fragmented aftermath.
To close, Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony (No.3). Symphonic suggestiveness, yes, but this is music that goes deeper than the pictorial, as Bychkov showed, an account as detailed and inflected as it was cohesive, tempos ideal and each attacca well-judged. The first movement (with exposition repeat) had expectation, buoyancy and drama; the second enjoyed springy rhythms rather than tearaway speed; the slow one, lovingly shaded, was profoundly expressive, rising organically in emotional intensity; and the Finale stamped with vigour while avoiding haste, the coda a masterclass in how to integrate majesty with the inevitably of homecoming.
As centrepiece, Schumann’s A-minor Piano Concerto, Kirill Gerstein introducing himself with poise to kindle a flowing reading that avoided indulgence without denuding romance or intimacy, the BBCSO and Bychkov chamber partners par excellence (some lovely woodwind contributions), a ‘first among equals’ rendition epitomised by a first-movement cadenza that bubbled like champagne without overlooking the music’s interior. With a blossoming slow movement (confidences aired and shared) and a Finale taken at a benevolent tempo, shapely expression to the fore, this was a deeply considered/considerate interpretation, not least from Gerstein regarding dynamics when accommodating the orchestra, which freshened the music beyond the routine, the closing bars skipping with joy … and into a mercurial encore, a Chorale by J. S. Bach arranged by Ferruccio Busoni, in which Gerstein dazzled and swung.