Britten Gloriana – Symphonic Suite, Op. 53a (1954)
Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77 (1947-8)
Britten Peter Grimes – Four Sea Interludes, Op. 33a (1945)
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin, above), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Ludovic Morlot (below)
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Thursday 16 June 2022, 2.15pm
Written by Richard Whitehouse
This afternoon’s concert by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra might largely have repeated that of the previous evening, but its inclusion of Shostakovich’s most wide-ranging concerto with suites which Britten devised from two of his operas ensured an absorbing listen.
In Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, it helped to have Patricia Kopatchinskaja at her most combative. Admittedly the opening Nocturne took time to come into focus, though its latter stages were powerfully shaped and with the sombre foreboding of the main climax gradually fading into silence. The Scherzo was distinguished by incisive repartee between soloist and orchestra, along with the vivid pointing up of those Jewish-derived elements which give this music a sardonic quality as becomes increasingly frenetic as the movement reaches its close.
The Passacaglia depends for so much of its emotional impact on its inexorable cumulative motion, and here Ludovic Morlot was at one with Kopatchinskaja in projecting the anguish – without undue vehemence – at its apex then forlorn manner of the soloist’s musing soliloquy. The Cadenza emerged methodically but with no lack of spontaneous expression, creating an impetus that the final Burlesque fulfilled in ample measure as it careered onwards – soloist and orchestra keeping enough in reserve for the coda fully to register its desperate defiance.
A pity last night’s UK premiere of Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Catamorphosis (a co-commission for the CBSO’s centenary) could not be repeated, but that concert is being broadcast on BBC Radio 3 at a later date. Moreover, Kopatchinskaja had music of her own to perform when she returned to the platform for a duet with principal bassoonist Nikolaj Henriques in what was a repost to the authoritarian leaders who curtail creative expression, as have their predecessors before and after Stalin. Suffice to add that this piece made its point in notably visceral terms.
Opening the concert, Britten’s Symphonic Suite from his opera Gloriana made for a short if eventful first half – moving from the imperiousness of The Tournament, via the eloquence of The Lute Song (the tenor line of the original plaintively taken by oboist Emmet Byrne) and inspired pastiche of The Courtly Dances with its felicitous writing for woodwind and percussion, to the powerful apotheosis that is Gloriana moritura with its baleful brass and burnished strings. Not often revived, it made a suitably thoughtful impression this evening.
The Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s earlier opera Peter Grimes is more frequently heard in concert, with Morlot clearly relishing the stark timbral contrasts of Dawn as much as the scenic and temporal interplay in Sunday Morning. The highlight, though, was Moonlight whose sustained intensity and encroaching harmonic dissonance were palpably conveyed – after which, Storm concluded the sequence in vividly dramatic terms while not excluding that element of weary soul-searching as briefly ‘takes the stage’ before the dramatic close.
A distinctive programme with performances to match. Morlot is a conductor not seen often enough in the UK, and the same might be said for Markus Stenz who will be appearing with the CBSO next Thursday and Saturday in performances of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.
For more information on the CBSO, visit their website, and for details on the newly announced 2022/23 season click here. Meanwhile for more information on the artists, click on the names to access the websites of Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Ludovic Morlot