Classical Music Buzz > Classical music | The Guardian > Prom 34: BBCSO/Bychkov – review

Royal Albert Hall, London

The BBC Symphony Orchestra's newly formalised relationship with the Russian-born conductor Semyon Bychkov – appointed this week to a specially created post, the Günter Wand Conducting Chair – is a significant move into the big conducting league. This Prom was the first concert since Bychkov's new position was announced, and it was clear the orchestra was playing for him with fresh ambition.

Bychkov's trademark qualities are a long and supple sense of line – especially evident in his work in the opera house – and a controlled dynamic approach. Both were immediately displayed in his extremely spacious, poignant reading of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, whose fragile themes emerged from an grippingly sombre pianissimo in the strings. Some of the playing Bychkov drew from his new orchestra was truly exceptional, notably in the woodwinds.

If the Unfinished brought to mind Schumann's famous phrase about the "heavenly length" of Schubert's final symphony, Richard Dubugnon's Battlefield Concerto, premiered in LA a year ago, rather overstayed its welcome. The concerto, in nine not very distinctly defined sections played without a break, is a vehicle for the piano-playing Labèque sisters (Bychkov is married to Marielle Labèque). There is lots going on in this piece, and Bychkov kept the orchestra under tight control in order to keep the spotlight on the prodigiously industrious soloists, but the concerto lacked a distinct personality, and its self-proclaimed connections to Paolo Uccello's battle paintings were elusive.

No such doubts about Strauss's Ein Heldenleben. Here Bychkov was on home ground, and if at times his reading felt oddly austere for this ravishingly preening orchestral work, the playing again made clear that the new relationship between the BBC orchestra and Bychkov will offer some unmissable evenings.

• If you're at any Prom this summer, tweet your thoughts about it to @guardianmusic using the hashtag #proms and we'll pull what you've got to say into one of our weekly roundups – or leave your comments below.

Rating: 4/5

Martin Kettle
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