CBSO @ Barbican Hall – Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts Elgar’s Violin Concerto, with Vilde Frang, and selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet


Violin Concerto in B-minor, Op.61


Romeo and Juliet, Op.64 [selections]

Vilde Frang (violin)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 16 March, 2023
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Vilde Frang took the Elgar into her repertoire some five years ago and she has the measure of one of the composer’s most private, oblique works. It may have been commissioned by and dedicated to Fritz Kreisler but it is better known for the mysterious Spanish quotation Elgar included in the score, translated as “Here is enshrined the soul of …..”, the five dots most likely refer to Alice Stuart-Wortley (daughter of the painter John Everett Millais), whom Elgar loved.

Frang surpassed herself in a performance of acute understanding and identification, completely in line with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s view, and one that I shall treasure. However familiar Elgar’s symphonic certainty being subverted by a lone violin may be, here the rapport between soloist, conductor, and the CBSO in radiant Elgarian form was so fresh and intuitive that the Concerto’s unfolding drama was simple to follow but with implications that were immensely challenging to keep up with. The soloist’s first entry is always arresting, but here it went straight to the core of the music’s passionate tension.

The relationship between Elgar and his ‘Windflower’ (his nickname for Alice) was apparently platonic, but with playing at this level of tenderness, regret and fury, you do wonder. Frang took charge of the myriad factors that make the violin’s role so fragile and so powerful – the fluttering hesitations, an almost conversational sense of rubato and infinitely nuanced expression, a range of sound from barely cogent pianissimo to full golden tone, delivered with gasp-inducing finesse on Frang’s 1734 Guarneri del Jesú instrument.

After all that English subtlety and evasiveness came full-strength caffeine in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, not one of the three Suites but an unattributed forty-five-minute sequence following the ballet’s main events in sequence. The CBSO was at its most glamorous, delivering a gorgeous red-blooded sound with many memorable moments, heavenly flute and saxophone solos for the young Juliet, fabulously bleeding horns for Tybalt’s death, endlessly nimble percussion and those ominous bass drum roles that are signature Prokofiev, some inspired bassoon solos, but alas no viola d’amore. I wondered if the composer might have found his genius for writing a tune something of a curse – the melodies just never stop – and I also wondered what he’d have made of the music for Juliet’s death being boldly pressed into service for the soundtrack of one of the Star Trek feature films, the one where the Enterprise falls out of the sky. The CBSO was at-one with Gražinytė-Tyla’s serene overview, giving her, and us, great playing.

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