Judging by the polished musicianship from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, it’s entirely understandable why so many conductors, including, of course, Sir Simon Rattle, are drawn to this distinguished Munich-based band. Making her debut with the BRSO on 26th March, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla programmed familiar Beethoven and Mozart with the Polish-born Soviet composer Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) whose vast output has been described by David Fanning as "some of the most individual and compelling music of the 20th century”. Only in recent years has his music secured a wider appreciation outside of Russia, thanks in part to Gražinytė-Tyla’s advocacy and her compelling debut disc with Deutsche Grammophon, including Weinberg’s Second Symphony of 1946, which won Recording of the Year in 2020.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the BRSO
© BR | Astrid Ackermann

In an empty but glittering Herkulessaal, the evening opened with this elusive symphony. It shares certain characteristics with Shostakovich, yet the initial serenade-like charm of the first movement could have belonged to Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev. Across its twelve minutes, the mood darkens, and the subsequent turbulence yields to a wintry lyricism – each changing panorama clearly signposted with scrupulous care, the orchestra continuously alert to its variable sonorities with a solo violin periodically casting a bewitching spell. Low strings set in motion the central Adagio, where sullen unisons and sinuous lines redolent of Shostakovich conjure remote, forbidding vistas, briefly relieved by a rapt solo cello, the whole emotionally charged and shaped by wonderfully taut playing. The mood lightened for the Finale, but it wasn’t long before a frenzied central panel interrupted its ‘outdoor’ revelry, its mutability carried along by a remarkable buoyancy, Gražinytė-Tyla’s fluid, airy gestures galvanising players to fashion a convincing performance of a somewhat elusive movement that ends with more questions than answers.

Francesco Piemontesi, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the BRSO
© BR | Astrid Ackermann

From uncertainty we moved to clear blue skies in a delightfully engaging account of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 27 in B flat major for which Gražinytė-Tyla stood facing Swiss soloist Francesco Piemontesi, and her back to most of the players. To this unconventional arrangement they responded gamely, achieving a fine distinction between style and substance, balancing elegance and rhythmic bite, precision-engineered strings and ear-catching woodwind and horns. Piemontesi is a seasoned Mozartian whose unfussy yet precise pianism throughout the opening Allegro time and again produced eloquently sculpted phrases of crystalline beauty. The Larghetto was equally involving, its paragraphs purposely shaped, although magic was in short supply until near the end. The Finale was a rollicking affair, cleanly articulating the main songlike theme and bringing transparency to Mozart’s filigree writing that, together, conspired to create a joyous farewell to the concerto form.

Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3 is often performed as an audience-settling opener, here it closed proceedings. And what a barnstorming account this was: its accumulating tensions and eventual release was finely paced; solo trumpet suitably rousing, a rapturous flute and horns and timpani to the fore in a roistering Presto. Ending with such unequivocal triumph, one needed little imagination to hear the online cheering for Gražinytė-Tyla’s thrilling debut.

This performance was reviewed from the BR Klassik video stream