Friday, February 11, 2022

Barbican Hall, London

To kick-start a weekend of live BBC ensemble events,, the UK premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Mari (the Basque god of the forest), dedicated to Semyon Bychkov. A few moments of interest out of sixteen is a poor return, and the structure seemed, at best, loose, with one episode being disconcertingly minimalist. The quotation from Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony was obvious enough, whereas that from Mahler escaped me (whatever it’s from). Excellent performance though.

Next, Kirill Gerstein was meant to be playing Thomas Larcher’s recent Piano Concerto,, but that was changed to Richard Strauss’s early Burleske, which found Gerstein in scintillating form, relishing the technically challenging writing, enjoying the music’s wit and waltzing, the parodies and laconic asides, while Bychkov and the BBCSO gave full vent to the cartoon-like, proto-Eulenspiegel, complements and interruptions, not least from adversarial timpani (Antoine Bedewi).

The Viktor Hartmann-inspired Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky, for piano, 1874; orchestrated Ravel, 1922, the same year the BBC was founded) got off to a great start with a flawless trumpet solo (from Philip Cobb, I assume) and went on to be a refreshed and refreshing reading, Bychkov finding characterisations, details, emphases and dark weight personal to him that were also illuminating of the music. Much consideration went into this account, ending with a sonorous and ever-broader ‘Great Gate of Kiev’, and made for gratifying listening.