the conductor brought a bright, edgy, blunt sound

(Benjamin Ealovega)

Long before Cate Blanchett amazed us with her highly physical podium technique in Tar, Lithuanian Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla was doing the same in real life with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

She stepped down as principal conductor last year, but continues to appear with them as principal guest conductor. Publicity photos of her portray a flurry of activity and indeed her high-octane gestural style is the hallmark of her management.

In purely sonic terms, the difference between the CBSO sound below her and that produced these days by Barbican residents, the London Symphony Orchestra under Simon Rattle, is striking.

From the opening notes of this concert, we were confronted with a bright, edgy and forthright sound that hasn’t been heard in this venue for many years. We’ve gotten used to Rattle’s exquisitely blended, more nuanced textures. GražinytÄ—-Tyla hit us with an invigorating Baltic breath of salty fresh air, ideal for Prokofiev.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (Benjamin Ealovega)

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (Benjamin Ealovega)

The suite of pieces from the latter’s Romeo and Juliet ballet corresponded to none of the three conceived by the composer: rather a sequence that follows a logical narrative thread from the representation of the feuding clans and of Juliet as a girl, through the love scene to on Juliet’s death.

The rhythms of GražinytÄ—-Tyla’s whiplash are served well in Montagues and Capulets and especially in Death of Tybalt. In the latter the rat-a-tat of a side drum set, the menacing sizzle of cymbals and lethal blows were all delivered with force. But also the initial chills of the wind whistling through the catacombs and the closing of Death of Juliet, the sounds of which tapered off to silence.

More debatable was whether such a spirited, spirited style suited Elgar. The latter’s violin concerto undoubtedly displays an element of Edwardian bravado, but it is countered by that melancholic, introspective quality which is much deeper.

Under GražinytÄ—-Tyla’s lively, snappy baton, the orchestral introduction conveyed little sense of that inner longing. Seasoned Norwegian soloist Vilde Frang took the lead on her with her keenly thoughtful entrance and played with consistent expressiveness throughout.

The eloquently thoughtful cadence of the final movement, the evocative arabesques of the soloist accompanied by the gentle beating of the orchestra’s strings, finally found soloist and conductor in perfect harmony.

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