From the first bars of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, it seemed clear that the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and Birmingham's Symphony Hall are a ménage à trois made in heaven. The CBSO is blessed with many woodwind and brass soloists who can each produce phrasing and timbre with real depth of character. Symphony Hall has an acoustic which enables us to hear every detail of those timbres. And Gražinytė-Tyla has a unique conducting style with pin-sharp hand movements and the fastest hand speed of any conductor I’ve seen; that lets her delineate the exact timing she wants for a note and make it easy for the musicians to play precisely together. As each instrument joined the texture, the blending of sound was a delight to the ear; the broadening chords with the advent of the harp quite blissful.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO
© Hannah Fathers

Gražinytė-Tyla sculpts music with her upper body, performing an elaborate ballet with her hands. It’s impressive to watch even if I didn’t always have the sense that the orchestra was fully engaged in following the choreography. The result was that the dark low string passages and the pianissimi sounded superb, but the Tchaikovskian string swell wasn’t always quite there and the big crescendos didn’t all convince. The reprise of Friar Laurence’s theme, however, was deeply spiritual.

This was an evening in the standard “overture-concerto-symphony” format. Next up was Stravinsky's Violin Concerto in Dmajor. Patricia Kopatchinskaja has been performing the concerto frequently recently and clearly adores it. She is a firebrand on stage, fizzing with energy and spreading it to everyone around her, a personality which is a perfect match for this mercurial, shape-shifting music which never lets you relax before moving onto the next one of its fountain of ideas.

Although Stravinsky’s music is often quite abrasive, Kopatchinskaja plays with so much verve that you cannot help but be seduced by it. It’s partly because none of the sudden changes of tempo faze her, so the music flows evenly through the spikiest passages. The duets with various orchestra members came off perfectly, with Kopatchinskaja giving the CBSO’s leader Eugene Tzikindelean a big embrace at the end.

Stravinsky, she explained, didn’t write a cadenza for the concerto “because he didn’t like empty virtuosity”. Methinks the composer doth protest too much, but anyway, for an encore, Kopatchinskaja provided us with her own cadenza, promised to be free of any virtuosity, first played solo and then in duet with Tzikindelean as it dissolved into a Moldovan folk dance. A real treat. And I have to mention Kopatchinskaja’s dress, a replica of a Mikhail Larionov costume for the buffoon’s wife in the Prokofiev's Diaghilev ballet Chout, which was utterly stunning and a perfect addition to the Stravinsky-period feel of the performance.

The second half of the concert, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 in F minor, was performed to a high quality, even if it seemed a little routine after Kopatchinskaja’s fireworks. Plaudits once more to the CBSO’s brass section with an imposing reading of the fate motif, to the woodwind for a second movement Canzona with a beautiful old world feel and to the conductor and whole string section for brilliantly controlled dynamics in the pizzicato Scherzo. The finale was the traditional high energy gallop to the finish.

CBSO’s CEO Stephen Maddock introduced the concert with a brief address in support of Ukraine, pointing out that “certainly, none of this was the fault of Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky”; a Ukrainian flag was draped over the podium; the encore was Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk’s Melody. The irony was palpable in hearing Skoryk’s beautiful and haunting gentleness after the military brass of the Tchaikovsky.

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