Today's Classical Music Video

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bychkov Conducts Shostakovich

This is some of the most terrifying music ever written; the scherzo from the Symphony No. 8 by Shostakovich. Here is a performance that is exemplary in every respect, not least of all, as a master class in conducting. Semyon Bychkov not only understands this music like few others but he knows how to get an orchestra to play it magnificently. The tempo is fast and the character of the music is intense and savage. Yet Bychkov is intense but incredibly controlled in his demeanor and gestures. Much of the time he is using little more than his right wrist to beat time. As you can see, however, the musicians are playing as if possessed. What is going on? Obviously, a great deal of preparatory work was done in rehearsal to establish tempo, dynamics, bowing techniques, balances, etc. But it is absolutely essential to the success of the performance to not only establish the tempo but to keep it steady. An experienced conductor knows that wild flailing movements produce only anxiety and chaos. Bychkov's controlled beat gives the musicians confidence and a reference point to anchor the intensity of their playing. As it happens, there is a video of Evgeny Mravinsky conducting this music. It was Mravinsky who conducted the first performance. Mravinsky too was poker-faced and appeared to be doing little more than beating time. I suspect that Bychkov is familiar with that Mravinsky video. Even more importantly, as a student Bychkov was encouraged to emulate that style of conducting.

The playing of the WDR Orchestra is superb with some especially exciting trumpet playing.

This video is also notable for its imaginative use of editing to enhance the musical experience. Unfortunately, this excerpt breaks off in the middle of the movement.  

Paul E. Robinson

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