City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
May 3 2019
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Magical worlds made real with probing intelligence and acute sensitivity
Just imagine: a horrible, dragon-clawed monster has pinned you against a tree and is about to turn you to stone. But then you remember you’ve been given a magic feather, so you wave it in the air and a dazzlingly beautiful bird swoops down to rescue you.
Yes, it’s the stuff of fairy tales but for the audience at the CBSO’s performance of Stravinsky’s The Firebird on Friday the magical events in the enchanted forest became more real than their surroundings in the Royal Concert Hall.
This was due in large part to the exceptional playing of the CBSO and its conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. She is wonderful to watch, her gestures clear, expressive, almost balletic. She has moulded her orchestra into a vast chamber ensemble where individual expertise is matched by each player’s ability to listen intensely to the sound their colleagues are making.
This partly accounted for the vast range of orchestral colour and the often breath-taking control of dynamics. Although the famous Infernal Dance was thrillingly fast and loud, it was perhaps the more hushed moments which really impressed: the CBSO didn’t so much play quietly as give the impression of light imperceptibly dimming to complete darkness.
This same refinement was evident in Debussy’s Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune, moulded by Mirga into a languorous, shimmering, multi-sensory experience, its slow tempo made possible by a principal flautist with superb breath control.
Soloist Patricia Kopatchinskaya joined the CBSO for Bartók’s 1st Violin Concerto, a deeply personal work written by the composer for the girl he loved and kept secret until after their deaths.
Again it was the chamber-like intensity of the playing which impressed with Kopatchinskaya sensitively capturing the celestial, inward qualities of the first movement and the cheerful, witty aspects of the second. Probing intelligence, acute sensitivity, effortless virtuosity: qualities which shone in this performance and in the concert as a whole.
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla with Patricia Kopatchinskaya (Violin)