Romeo & Juliet, CBSO, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Wednesday 15 March 2023. 4**** David & Paul Gray

Weinberg – Sinfonietta No. 1, Schumann – Piano Concerto, Prokofiev – Romeo & Juliet: Suite

Concerts which conrast the familiar with the not so familiar are always a fascinating prospect. Here, the well-known and much-loved Schumann Piano Concerto, with highlights from Prokofiev’s ballet suite Romeo & Juliet, were prefaced by Meiczyslaw Weinberg’s Sinfonietta No.1. This work continuing the conductor, Mirga Grazinyte-Tylas project to record some of the Weinberg’s opus, a rather middle-ranking composer.

A diverting enough piece, the Sinfonietta benefits from not sounding quite so heaviy influenced by Schostakovich as some of Weinberg. Instead, it draws on the composer’s Jewish and Polish roots for source material, and the result has an air of authenticity and freshness of voice which is rather charming. The Lento movemement is lyrical and evocative, and the work builds to an energetic klezmer-infused climax. The orchestra played with sparkle and they clearly relished the challenge of this orchestral showpiece.

It is easy to get swept up in the heroic moments of the first movement of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Conductor, Grazinyte-Tyla, resisted this temptation and delivered a smoother, more measured reading, a reading that intergrated big gestures into a more balanced whole. Here, the emphasis is on the journey through this glorious work. Pianist, Kirill Gerstein, played with power and brilliance. The second movement had an intimate, conversational feel, which developed into a a deeply felt love duet between soloist and orchestra. The finale sparkled with an infectious joyfullness, full of detail and well-balanced orchestral colour.

Ballet suites can be problematic. A series of scenes taken out of context on the basis of their musical merit and threaded together without a coherent dramatic narrative of music form, they can sometimes seem shapeless and disjointed. Fortunately, Prokofiev’s selection of extracts from his ballet score to Romeo & Juliet maintains enough of the elements of the drama to serve to tell the story. Mirga exploited this and gave a well-shaped and dramatically compelling reading which built to a moving climax. The orchestra projected a lush, but well-articulated sound which complemented the work’s inherent romanticism.

Following this very good performance in Birmingham, the CBSO now embarks on a European Tour.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra,

Conductor – Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla

Piano – Kirill Gerstein

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