The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at the BBC Proms on Saturday 27 July.
No-one goes to the Proms for the sound quality. Even by London standards, the Royal Albert Hall has a poor acoustic – it’s like hearing a concert from half a block away. For Birmingham concertgoers, it’s impossible not to keep thinking how much better it’d sound in Symphony Hall. No, you go to the Proms for the atmosphere; to be part of one of the biggest classical audiences in the world, whose breathless silence in that vast space says more than any applause. And if you’re an orchestra, you go to the Proms to show what you’re made of.
And it’s hard to think of a better programme with which the CBSO could have introduced Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla to a London audience – demonstrating how once again, Birmingham’s picked a winner. Mozart’s Magic Flute overture can sound like a toy in the Albert Hall; but not at this voltage, with trumpets and timpani cutting thrillingly through vibrato-less strings.
Hans Abrahamsen’s song-cycle let me tell you offered a different sort of showcase: Andris Nelsons and the CBSO gave its UK premiere in 2014, and the soloist then – Barbara Hannigan – also sang tonight. Hannigan’s rapt, radiant singing in this modern masterpiece continues to captivate and astonish. What differed was Mirga’s more urgent sense of the piece’s drama, and the subtle, questioning way she clarified its textures: a less romantic approach than Nelsons’s, perhaps, but every bit as affecting. Amidst playing of breathtaking quietness and refinement, Adrian Spillett’s percussion team worked a special magic.
As for Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony – well, it’s probably too soon to start analysing Mirga’s fingerprints. But if it wasn’t, we’d pick out her refusal to play for easy thrills: building and controlling the tension of the musical argument in order to release it with thrilling power where it really counts. Plus, of course, the balletic grace and warm-hearted lilt she brings to a dance-rhythm or a melody – and the way the CBSO players seem to follow, body and soul, wherever she takes them.
The encore – a fizzy little number from Act Two of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty – was one of those joyous, perfectly-timed Proms moments that linger in the memory years later. “See you in Birmingham!” yelled Mirga after the final flourish. We’re already there.