Britten Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Op. 33a (1945)
Adès The Exterminating Angel Symphony (2020)
Weinberg Jewish Rhapsody, Op. 36 No. 2 (1947) [First public performance]
Debussy La mer (1905)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 28 September 2022
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
This afternoon concert by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra found Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla at the helm for her first concert as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor in what was a varied programme featuring music of (more or less) Jewish emphasis framed by evocations of the sea.
The Four Sea Interludes that Britten extracted from his opera Peter Grimes invariably makes a worthwhile concert-opener, not least with Dawn as hauntingly poised as this. MG-T drove Sunday Morning hard, so that the cross-rhythmic interplay between wind and strings came close to decoupling, but there was no lack of atmosphere either here or in Moonlight where a sense of emotional disintegration was almost tangible. Storm was as relentless and, in its latter stages, imploring as the music requires – hurtling forth toward a close of brutal finality.
Next, a revival of The Exterminating Angel Symphony as derived from the eponymous opera by Thomas Adès, commissioned and premiered by the CBSO last August. As previously, its four sections feel more a symphonic suite than symphony per se – the whole still amounting to more than the sum of its constituent parts. MG-T secured a virtuoso response – whether in the encroaching expressive ambivalence of Entrances, or relentless build-up and malevolent aura of March. Berceuse remains uninvolving in emotional content despite the allure of its scoring, while Waltzes provides a suavely ingenious finale in its inexorable motion towards catastrophe. It would be hard to imagine a more committed or convincing account, such that the composer – making one of his rare appearances as a non-performer – looked well pleased.
After the interval, MG-T continued her advocacy of Mieczysław Weinberg in what was billed as a ‘first public performance’ for his Jewish Rhapsody. One of various pieces at a time when Soviet composers attempted (inevitably unsuccessfully) to placate officialdom with music of an outwardly populist nature, it forms the middle part of a Festive Scenes trilogy only recently located in its entirety. Beginning with an affecting melody for flutes it proceeds, via solos for clarinet and violin, to sombrely eloquent music (a little akin to that of Kodály’s folk-inspired works from the 1930s) which gains in energy until breaking out in dance-music of decidedly manic cast – a recall of the initial melody on flute then oboe leading to the headlong pay-off. Superbly rendered by the CBSO, this is no mean discovery and warrants repeated hearings.
Finally, to La mer – a piece of which this orchestra has given many memorable performances over the decades, and which did not disappoint here. If the opening stages of From Dawn to Midday on the Sea were a little tentative, the theme for divided cellos was finely articulated and the apotheosis powerfully wrought. Play of the Waves had no lack of capriciousness or delicacy, while Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea duly contrasted those visceral and poetic elements towards a peroration that never lost sight of the essential pathos within its triumph. An impressive close, then, to a concert such as gave notice of the continued rapport between orchestra and conductor. MG-T returns next week for an equally diverse selection with Sheku Kanneh-Mason in Haydn and the CBSO’s own Marie-Christine Zupancic in more Weinberg.
You can read all about the 2022/23 season and book tickets at the CBSO website. You can visit Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla‘s website here – and for further information on Weinberg or Adès, click on the composer names