CBSO. Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham. March 5 2022. 4****. William Ruff



City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


March 5 2022


Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham




Review: William Ruff



High energy, often revelatory performances from the CBSO


It’s surely a symptom of the strange and frightening world we find ourselves in at the moment that it was silence rather than music which may well have left the most lasting impression on the audience.  The CBSO ended their concert with a short piece simply called Melody by Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk.  It led to the longest and most complete silence I can remember in the RCH – before inevitably thunderous applause and a standing ovation, in solidarity and friendship with the people of Ukraine.


The concert began with Stephen Maddock, Chief Executive of the CBSO, not only expressing collective horror at barbarity and support for its victims but also reminding us not to tar all things Russian with the same brush, including brave present-day protesters and the creators of a culture which has enriched our own for so long.


Such a thought was particularly apposite in a concert consisting entirely of Russian music.  When the audience was told that the present situation ‘is not the fault of Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky’, there was some laughter.  But it had to be said, and it’s shocking that it was necessary.


Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet opened the concert.  Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the CBSO’s music director, led a typically fresh, thoughtful account of a work which perhaps gets performed just a tad too often (Tchaikovsky also wrote pieces about Shakespeare’s Tempest and Hamlet, but R&J has left them in the shade).  Mirga’s approach was minutely attentive to the detail of dynamics and phrasing, which certainly helped jaded ears to hear things buried in the score.  The brooding introduction, the focused energy of the fight music and (especially) the enraptured tenderness of the great love theme – all of these were there in abundance.


However, I just had a feeling that sharp focus on detail was occasionally at the expense of epic sweep and spontaneity.  This also came into play in Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony: again often revelatory in its exposure of telling detail but a little held-back when it came to the symphony’s more neurotic qualities.  It was, however, an intensely dramatic vision of the work: its doom-laden opening movement; the melancholy musings of the slow movement and what the composer called the ‘whimsical arabesques’ of the dazzlingly inventive pizzicato scherzo.  The finale was a triumph over the dark forces of Fate and it was here that Mirga achieved perhaps the best balance between the manic and the tightly controlled.


In between the two well-known Tchaikovsky pieces came Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, a work that would have been new to most of the audience.  The soloist was the extraordinary Patricia Kopatchinskaya, one of the most spontaneous and innovative musicians around.  The concert dates from Stravinsky’s ‘neo-classical’ period, its movements bearing 18th century titles such as Toccata and Capriccio.  It was perhaps a mistake to hear Patricia’s exemplary recording of the piece beforehand.  In live performance balance is harder to get right and the fact that violin and orchestra are in constant dialogue means that weightier woodwind and brass threaten to rob the soloist of some of the subtler details.  Still, this was an exhilarating performance of a high-octane concerto, full of energy, surprisingly lyrical and culminating in a mischievous finale which perfectly suited the soloist’s mercurial temperament.


City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, conductor

Patricia Kopatchinskaya, violin

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