By Truman C. Wang
Twenty-eight years after the trio first recorded Max Bruch’s Concerto for Two Pianos at London’s Henry Wood Hall in 1990, Semyon Bychkov, Marielle Labèque (his wife) and Katia Labèque performed this rare gem at the Disney Hall with full-throttled romanticism and complete authority as if the piece was especially written for them (nevermind the two wayward sisters who had premiered the work in 1915 and promptly sank it into obscurity). A comparison between that classic recording and this concert is inevitable. The current reading retained the same lush, romantic sweep in the ‘big tune’ of the Adagio, while the solemn, darker outer movements gained greater depth and breadth apparently from three decades of living life. Bychkov’s conducting has also matured into a powerful force that matched his soloists in beauty and eloquence.
Alone together, the Labèque sisters played a a scintillating piano four-hand rendition of Ravel’s Ma mère l'Oye (Mother Goose Suite, fittingly for Mother’s Day). In the five sections of the suite, there was unforced beauty and elegance in their playing, each finishing the other’s musical thought in complete synergy. The final “Fairy Garden” was appropriately magical in its blazing glitters of rushing scales and tolling bells.
Bychkov’s version of Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 was decidedly not your grandfather’s mellow, good-natured walk in the Bohemian forest. Rather, it was fiery, edgy, dramatic, with the various inner voices jostling and vying for attention. For those expecting a Dvorak symphony to sound like his Slavonic Dances, they would be happier with the Kubelik or Kertész recording. The 6/8 waltz in the third movement, in the hands of Bychkov, sounded ominously like a dance of death, paralleling Dvořák’s own personal tragedy at the time of composition (1884). The LA Phil winds were absolutely stellar for this concert, but the rest of the orchestra were not too far behind. Can’t wait to hear these fine musicians in the upcoming Schumann cycle!
Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.