Winter, which feels as though it’s lasted as long as Covid, gets a fresh come-uppance in a new streamed concert by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducted an animated performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto featuring emerging virtuoso Eric Lu and a full orchestra. High-energy selections concluding the concert brought to listeners’ attention two almost forgotten composers getting a second lease of life.

Eric Lu, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the RSPO
© Yanan Li

Appointed chief conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2016, Gražinytė-Tyla guest-conducted the RSPO in a polished rendition of the Beethoven G major piano concerto, a reading that gathered energy as it progressed, culminating in the composer’s own admonition to speed things up in the final measures. Eric Lu, first-place winner of the Leeds competition in 2018, revealed his strong potential as a virtuoso, with drive and impressive technical skill. In this interpretation, the concerto opened on a gentle note, both in the opening piano phrases and as the orchestra added its own voice. Indeed, this may be the most elegant reading of the first movement that I have yet heard. But elegance soon transitioned into the energy of Beethoven’s characteristically heroic middle period as Gražinytė-Tyla led with palpable enthusiasm and verve, her bare arms cutting quickly but gracefully through the air.

Eric Lu plays Beethoven in Stockholm
© Yanan Li

The other two works on the program were examples of works by composers esteemed in their era, but largely forgotten by concert goers over the past half-century. The first of these was Lamia by English composer Dorothy Howell (1898-1982), a work of startling originality and a mature vision that Gražinytė-Tyla has performed at the BBC Proms. The symphonic poem was inspired by a romance by John Keats about a nymph imprisoned in a serpent’s body. The work is late romantic in feeling, rippling with sensuality and yearning. Over a veil of strings, other instruments add their own hypnotic voices: four French horns, harp, then a lyrical oboe. A trio of trombones, later a a solo violin add their own unique timbres. The work swept passionately to its denouement, then the conductor tied up all the loose ends, and the music faded into a whisper.

The final work on the program was by Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996), a prolific Polish-born Soviet composer and friend of Shostakovich. Under Gražinytė-Tyla’s spirited direction, the Sinfonietta no. 1 exploded with colorful folk-like melodies and some snappy snare drum taps. Intertwined with bursts of Weinberg’s unique musical personality, I could hear touches of Prokofiev and the ghost of a fiery Khachaturian through most of this work, which is tonal but not tame.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
© Yanan Li

Gražinytė-Tyla is a champion of Weinberg’s music, and if the Sinfonietta is any indication, he is a composer worth championing. Weinberg wrote 22 symphonies, 17 string quartets, works for film, cartoons, even the circus, and many other works waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.

All in all, this was a fitting finale to an exciting, sometimes elegant but always lively program. Youthful performers with great promise, a bit of Beethoven, and some almost forgotten composers from the past provided reassurance that winter will have its end, and spring is on the way.

 

 This performance was reviewed from the KonserthusetPlay video stream

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