One consequence of the CBSO’s appointment of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla as its new music director is that we can now stop treating every guest conductor as an auditionee, and simply enjoy their music-making. Still, on the day of the announcement, was it reading too much into the situation to detect a special exuberance in the orchestra’s playing of Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream? No whispering fairies here; this performance had an unbuttoned quality that certainly felt like a celebration.
To assume that would be unfair to the conductor in question – the excellent Olari Elts. He went on to sculpt Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony in big, sweeping gestures and a positively lurid palette of orchestral colours. True, it was alive with detail: Julian Roberts’s plangent bassoon solos, Rainer Gibbons’s oboe twisting palely in the gloom at the start of the finale, and pizzicato that ranged from fat and pungent to bitterly wry. But this was broad-brush Shostakovich, thrillingly physical and reeking of vodka and boot-leather. The ending drew cheers.
Elts’s approach was less effective in Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto; his enjoyment of Szymanowski’s super-saturated orchestral textures sometimes threatened to drown soloist Baiba Skride. But Skride’s pure, shimmering tone has a way of creating an aura around itself: the most memorable moments of this performance were the quietest and Skride’s delicate final gesture spoke louder than any number of lush climaxes.
Earlier, the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra gave a pre-concert performance under Michael Seal. Mattei , by Conservatoire composer Ryan Probert, created huge Technicolor sonorities (extra brass plus organ) from the slightest of musical ideas. Respighi’s Pines of Rome put the same forces to suitably roof-raising use; but it was the eloquence and sense of atmosphere in the quiet music (beautifully poised trumpet and clarinet solos, supported by ravishing string phrasing) that showed just what heights these students can attain under Seal’s direction.