CBSO – City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: Paul Gray

Tchaikovsky – Romeo and Juliet
Stravinsky – Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 4

To give a concert of all-Russian music at the same time as the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine was sensitively handled by the management and performers of the CBSO. Stephen Maddock, CBSO chief executive, gave an address to the audience before the first item, and spoke movingly and supportively on behalf of the Ukrainian people, and also of the composers represented in the concert – Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky – and how music overcomes all barriers and speaks to greater human truths.

Speaking of greater human truths; probably inspired by the greatest love of his life, Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet, with its glorious, soaring love theme, so familiar to all, describes not just the love of Shakespeare’s doomed, young lovers, but, as we read in many of Tchaikovsky’s hundreds of letters, perhaps of the intense love the composer had around 1868 for his 19 year old lover at the Moscow Conservatoire, Eduard Zak. When gossip about the affair began to raise real dangers for the pair, Tchaikovsky found Eduard a job in Ukraine, but the gossip followed Zak and the young man shot and killed himself. One cannot but think of the horrific time lgbt people are still experiencing in Russia today – and this is 2022, not 1868.

There were certainly some pleasing moments in conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. However, there were also some scrappy moments, when her downbeats for the beginnings – and sometimes endings – of sections were not cleanly observed by the players; there was a bit of a scatter-gun effect. However, some lovely pianissimo playing in the quiet strings sections was a nice touch, and the tenderness of the love theme was suitable rapturous.

Violist Patricia Kopatchinskaya gave an outstanding and virtuosic performance of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto. This work, written in Paris in 1931, is not well-known and presents huge challenges for orchestra, conductor and soloist alike. In real terms the work is not only a solo concerto, but rather a mini concerto for orchestra. The players are kept incredibly busy is this detailed & complex score. They were on their mettle and delivered a terrific performance, full of intricate rhythmic detail. Soloist Kopatchinskaya was astonishing to watch; a virtuosic storyteller of quite breathtaking passion. Her encore, an improvised cadenza for the concerto in which she co-opted lead violinist Eugene Tzikindelean, was as inspired as it was great fun.

The work in the second half was Tchaikovsky’s epic 4th Symphony with its exploration of fate, love, life and joy. The CBSO performed with great commitment, panoramic sweep, grandeur and attention to detail. The Finale was a resultant paean; a joyous hymn of praise, tribute, thanksgiving and triumph. 

As an encore the CBSO ended with a short and wholly fitting piece, Melody by Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk.  This was a beautiful, elegiac work, full of love and suffering. Tears were in many an eye in the audience and the protracted period of respectful silence which followed united everyone in solidarity with our suffering European friends in the Ukraine.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, conductor

Patricia Kopatchinskaya, violin

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