CBSO Brass & Strings

A Downland Suite (1932)

Divertimento, BB118 (1939)*

Vaughan Williams
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910)

Brass and Strings of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Eugene Tzikindelean (leader/*director)
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

Filmed on 18th November and broadcast on 3rd December 2020

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 3 December, 2020
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s online concerts continued with this unlikely yet, in the event, arresting sequence in which a brass band staple was followed by two works for strings such as typify these composers’ maturity – albeit from either end of their respective careers.

Commencing this programme was A Downland Suite, John Ireland’s evergreen test-piece for the National Brass Band Championships at Crystal Palace, in a version for symphonic brass. A ‘Prelude’ set the scene with its incisiveness and pathos; if the hymnic poise of the ‘Elegy’ or lilting elegance of the ‘Minuet’ are best known in the composer’s transcription for strings, the immediacy of brass is justified here as in the rhythmic trenchancy of the ‘Rondo’. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla always ensured the extended timbral range played to this music’s strengths.

Bartók’s Divertimento having not been performed by the CBSO in seemingly four decades, it made sense for this revival to be directed from the leader’s desk by Eugene Tzikindelean. Best was the slow movement, its unfolding threnody punctuated by plangent outbursts and with a central crescendo of sustained emotive power. The first movement lacked a degree of impetus in its central stages, while the Finale could have been even more combative prior to its nonchalant pay-off, but the unanimity and conviction of response could hardly be doubted.

Her introductory remarks made plain MGT’s regard for Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia, and what followed was a reading that brought fresh insight even to this familiar masterpiece. Most notable was a seamlessness as evident in its overall evolution as with the integration of the string groups, their spatial arrangement underpinning the diverse textural interplay which is part of this music’s fascination. If the culmination could have had even greater rapture, the winding down into the final pages and their meditative repose was little short of spellbinding.

The CBSO returns next week for a concert with former assistant conductor Alpesh Chauhan, and further online events are no doubt planned into the new year. Hopefully, too, it will not be long before listeners can one more appreciate the virtues of Symphony Hall at first hand.

Performance available until 1st January 2021 at

Skip to content