CBSO with conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, ‘cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic. Symphony Hall, Birmingham 6/10/2022 – 5***** David & Paul Gray

Prior to their American coast-to-coast tour the CBSO under conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla gave a sparkling evening of concerti together with some seminal British orchestral works.

In this, the 150th year since the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the programme began with his ever popular -and deliciously lush – Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. The composer once said “The three watchwords of great music are sincerity, simplicity, and serenity”, and this work entirely embodies that aesthetic. Of course the CBSO worked extensively with RVW during his lifetime and the orchestra’s performance of this work this was delivered with due reverence and technical mastery.

Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C followed in the more than capable, young hands of ‘cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. What a gloriously expressive and technically excellent this young man is. He and the orchestra gave a superb interpretation of this joyous work by Haydn. Indeed, Haydn’s vast musical output has often led scholars to point out that his music, like his personality in real life, embodies the word “joy” and “joyous”, and Kanneh-Mason radiates this sense of joy.

After the interval we had another largely joyous work in the flute concerto by the otherwise little-known Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996). This relatively short work was beautifully performed by flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic.

During her time with the CBSO, conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla has been a huge advocate of the mostly unknown music of Weinberg, and particularly his symphonies (of which there are 26) and this is to be highly praised. Weinberg settled in Stalin’s Moscow in 1943 and spent a period in prison for alleged “Jewish subversion”. O course Weinberg was writing music at the same sort of time as Dmitri Shostakovich who became a champion of Weinberg’s music, and we can hear echoes of Shostakovich’s musical style in this flute concerto.

The concerto was followed by the ever popular Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten. The CBSO gave a terrific performance of this work with every section and individual player giving of their very best.

Framing the second half were two orchestral miniatures by Elgar, Sospiri and Old Albion (the latter given as an encore). Again, these pieces were played superbly well by the CBSO. With these, and the other pre-tour repertoire presented in this concert, audiences in America are in for a real treat.

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