Mirga & the CBSO

Concert Românesc (1951)

Bassoon Concerto in B-flat, K191 (1774)

Symphony No. 3 in F, Op.90 (1883)

Nikolaj Henriques (bassoon)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 4 November, 2020
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Another lockdown may be imminent, but its timing at least enabled the City of Birmingham Symphony to make a return to its home venue for a programme which, in one sense, picked up from where the orchestra left off with its previous performance almost eight months ago.

This afternoon’s concert also marked the debut of Eugene Tzikindelean as the CBSO’s new leader, heard to advantage in the final movement from Concert Românesc that ranks among the most striking works from György Ligeti’s years as up-and-coming composer in the Stalin-pervaded years of communist Hungary. Whatever the concessions to Socialist Realism of its earlier three movements, the Finale infuses its Romanian folk melodies with a tensile, often anarchic humour such as was palpably conveyed through to those heart-stopping final bars.

Mozart was more than a decade younger when he finished his Bassoon Concerto, among the earliest of his concertante works and one whose modest formal proportions belie its musical attractions. Doubtless a piece which Nikolaj Henriques (the CBSO Section Leader Bassoon) has played numerous times – his familiarity evident in an assured take on the initial Allegro, its succinctness according the lively cadenza (Henriques’s own?) greater prominence. In its easeful interplay of the soloist with oboes and horns, the Andante most audibly anticipates Mozart’s maturity; a deft contrast to the Finale whose ‘tempo di menuetto’ marking in itself confirms that galant style as inherited from J. C. Bach. A slightly slower tempo here might have allowed for greater elegance, though Henriques’s spiritedness was its own justification.

It was with a performance in Coventry of Brahms’s Third Symphony that Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla directed the CBSO’s last concert before (the first) lockdown. Tackling it this afternoon made sense logistically – its instrumentation ideal for ‘social distancing’ – and interpretively, this being among the most elusive works of its kind to realise in performance.

Which perhaps explained a rather listless take on the opening movement, its control over momentum erratic and with an abrupt transition into the development as suggested the absence of an exposition repeat for other than musical reasons. Yet the coda had a suffused eloquence as was sustained across the movements that followed: the Andante unerringly shaped in terms of its ruminative contrasts, the Poco Allegretto taken at a limpid tempo giving full rein to its unforced pathos.

Without placing undue emphasis on the final Allegro, MG-T made it the formal culmination in all senses. Here the tautening of tension at the height of the development yielded a tangible expressive frisson, and if her slowing down into the coda might have been more gradual, there was no mistaking those closing bars as destination to which the whole piece has been headed – its underlying motif descending as if from afar to effect the most transfigured of emotional touchdowns. A persuasive conclusion, indeed, to a reading such as more than made its mark.

And that, sadly, is it for now – the CBSO’s concert to commemorate the centenary of its first symphonic concert put on hold while the latest lockdown runs its course. Not that there is any reason to doubt the orchestra will be in other than fine shape once music-making is resumed.

Further information at https://cbso.co.uk/event/mirga-and-your-cbso-return

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