Vilde Frang (violin), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
Elgar Violin Concerto in B minor Op.61 (1909-10)
Andrzej & Roxanna Panufnik Five Polish Folk Songs (1940, rec. 1945, rev, 1959, orch. 2022) [CBSO Centenary Commission: World Premiere]
Schumann Symphony no.1 in B flat major Op.38 ‘Spring’ (1841)
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 8 March 2023
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
The relationship between Elgar and Schumann is a fascinating one, aspects of which surfaced in this coupling of the former’s Violin Concerto with the latter’s First Symphony; the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra joined by principal guest conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.
As with Sibelius not long before, Elgar was an able violinist whose solitary concerto for his instrument makes no technical concessions. There is also a symphonic dimension as seemed uppermost in the thoughts of Vilde Frang, her formidable technique (rightly) geared towards the work’s conveying emotions within an expansive while methodical framework. This was evident in the opening Allegro, the impetus of its initial tutti maintained by flexible handling of contrasted themes on to a climactic development whose intricacy was abetted by the clarity of the orchestral playing. Even finer was a central Andante whose main melodies, among the composer’s most affecting, were never indulged across the course of a movement where the expressive profile remains teasingly intangible right through to those soulful concluding bars.
Maybe the balance between display and insight slipped in the final Allegro molto, with Frang losing focus slightly during its more extrovert passages. Once the accompanied cadenza was underway, however, there was no doubting the rapport of soloist and orchestra as earlier ideas are recalled and speculatively transformed in what comes near to being a confession of intent. Nor was the sudden re-emergence of that earlier energy at all underplayed as the coda heads to its affirmative resolution: one whose conviction duly set the seal on a memorable reading.
After the interval, an additional item in the guise of Five Polish Folksongs written by Andrzej Panufnik after the outbreak of war, reconstructed at its close and orchestrated by his daughter Roxanna so the stark originals for children’s or female voices – with pairs of flutes, clarinets and bass clarinet – were cushioned by these richer orchestral textures. The CBSO Youth and Children’s choruses (finely prepared by Julian Wilkins) gave their all in what were appealing yet at times overly diffuse arrangements of settings that are best heard in their original guise.
So to Schumann’s ‘Spring’ Symphony, a piece whose encapsulating mid-Romantic sentiment seemed uppermost in MG-T’s insightful and, for the most part, convincing account. Evocative fanfares launched the opening Allegro in fine style, the often fitful momentum of its lengthy development vividly maintained through to a sparkling coda. Arguably too slow for its ‘song without words’ format, the Larghetto yet exuded undeniable pathos and made a spellbinding transition into the Scherzo. A (too?) leisurely take on its first trio took the listener unawares, but the winsome closing bars prepared well for a final Allegro whose animated progress was enlivened by delectable woodwind and horn playing on the way to its decisive close. Should MG-T return in future seasons, further Schumann symphonies would be more than welcome.
The CBSO returns next week in a rare UK hearing of Weinberg’s First Sinfonietta, alongside Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Kirill Gerstein and an extended selection from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – this latter and the Elgar also featuring in a Barbican concert the next day.
You can read all about the 2022/23 season and book tickets at the CBSO website, and click here for the Romeo and Juliet concert, repeated at the Barbican here. Click on the artist names for more on Vilde Frang and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, or composer Roxanna Panufnik