Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet (1869, rev. 1880)
Stravinsky Violin Concerto in D (1931)
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 in F minor Op. 36 (1877-8)
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 2 March 2022
Written by Richard Whitehouse
Coming toward the end of her tenure as music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla presided over this orthodox programme of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky given additional resonance by the geopolitical context against which it was heard.
At its centre was the Violin Concerto which Stravinsky wrote for his then duo partner Samuel Dushkin, whose four succinct movements nominally correspond to what is frequently thought a typical work from his neo-classical years, but with Patricia Kopatchinskaja involved this was anything but a straightforward rendering. From the start, a theatrical burlesque undercut any notions of Classical or even Baroque poise – those acerbic contrasts of its opening Toccata complemented by the speculative ambivalence of its First Aria or plangent eloquence of its Second Aria; the final Capriccio no less provocative in its constantly changing harmonic and rhythmic emphases. Regretting the absence of a cadenza, Kopatchinskaja instead gave Ligeti’s early Ballad and Dance – the latter in partnership with leader Eugene Tzikindelean.
Ambivalence in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet is more to do with what sort of piece it is – the composer taking over a decade to get the formal balance of this ‘fantasy overture’ right. While there was no lack of evocative immediacy, MG-T was more concerned with bringing out its symphonic logic; not least in a sombre introduction and notably circumspect take on the ‘love theme’. For all the ensuing cumulative impetus, it was the woodwind chorale near the end – Tchaikovsky’s empathy with his subjects made explicit – as proved most affecting.
It was with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony that MG-T concluded her first concert in charge of the CBSO at the 2016 Proms, which memory recalls as similar in approach to that heard this afternoon. The complex formal trajectory of the first movement (tempo markings given inadvertently in the programme as being those for the whole piece) was adroitly negotiated – audibly intensifying when the pervasive ‘fate’ motto emerges at the start of the development and reprise, then a coda whose ultimate implacability never descended into mere histrionics.
Its oboe melody limpidly rendered by Steve Hudson, the Andantino unfolded audibly as ‘in modo di canzona’ – the emotional surge of its central section (rightly) held in check and the closing pages suffused with pathos. Neither was the Scherzo treated as an excuse for empty virtuosity – strings articulating its ‘pizzicato ostinato’ outer sections with delectable humour, and woodwind relishing the ‘harmonien’ writing of its Allegro trio. Following on apace, the Allegro con fuoco found viable balance between untrammelled exuberance and a methodical progress such as makes the climactic return of the ‘motto’ structurally as well as emotionally inevitable. If MG-T (purposely?) underplayed this crucial episode, then there was no lack of resolve in her handling of a peroration which brought a defiant rather than triumphal close. Ukrainian flags on and above the platform were ample evidence of just where the thoughts of musicians and audience alike were directed. As postscript to this concert, MGT’s choice of a soulful Melody in A minor by the late Myroslav Skoryk could hardly have been more apposite.
This concert is repeated on Thursday 3 March at 7.30pm. For details and tickets click here