Schumann’s Piano Concerto

Sunday 10th January, 2016, 3.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra


  • Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, 10′
  • Schumann Piano Concerto, 31′
  • Sibelius  Lemminkäinen Suite, 50′

Beatrice Rana’s encore – Schumann trans. Liszt – Widmung
We may be in the depths of winter, but these three romantic narratives by composers barely into their thirties should warm the hardest of hearts. Debussy’s faun and Sibelius’s hero are the stuff of legend, their unrequited love expressed in music that is by turns languid, passionate and thrilling. Schumann’s feelings for Clara were only too real, and had been strongly opposed by her father: but once they were finally married, he poured his feelings into this gorgeous concerto. To perform these three youthful masterpieces we are joined by two outstanding young artists: a superb pianist and a conductor who caused quite a stir on her UK debut with the CBSO last summer.
Has CBSO finally found its next Music Director,
article/ review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post :
Click here for full article
…     “So on the second Sunday in January Mirga reappeared, conducting a programme which put so many skills to the test: phrasing with a flexibility which allowed orchestral soloists to make telling contributions, collaborating with a young pianist in one of the world’s best-known concertos (and one not without its pitfalls), and making sense of the jagged structures and kaleidoscopic colours of a gritty large-scale work.She triumphed spectacularly, to huge audience acclaim (and it was a nice bonus to hear the measured clarity of her speaking voice as she informed us of a change in movement-order), and the players seemed highly enthused, too.It helps that she so obviously enjoys conducting, relishing the partnership she shares with her colleagues. It was charming to see her beaming and silently applauding the delivery of important solos, and to see her beaming with pleasure as every effect came off successfully.”      …
Review by Richard Bratby, ArtsDesk:
Click here for full review
…     “What Gražinytė-Tyla achieved, then, was all the more remarkable. Her ultra-precise beat and balletic podium manner have attracted unfavourable comment from people who fundamentally misunderstand how an orchestra responds to a conductor – or who simply can’t listen. That Gražinytė-Tyla has a distinctive vision – and the power to realise it – was obvious from the rapturous opening bars of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune in which she coaxed the strings to match both the colour and texture of Marie-Christine Zupancic’s daringly-soft opening flute solo, and went on to generate an unfolding sense of wonder in which even the rests felt like part of the phrasing: hanging, pregnant with expression, in a breathlessly quiet Symphony Hall.
Sibelius’s four Lemminkäinen Legends made good on the Debussy’s promise. Gražinytė-Tyla has a powerful sense of the single culminating point of a large-scale musical structure, and the idea that these four tone-poems add up to a thinly-disguised symphony has rarely felt so convincing, with Gražinytė-Tyla reversing the conventional order of the two central pieces so that Lemminkäinen in Tuonela became a slow, macabre scherzo, and the dying notes of The Swan of Tuonela served as a sort of prelude to the first drumbeats of Lemminkäinen’s Homecoming. Throughout, Gražinytė-Tyla drew out and relished each fantastical detail of Sibelius’s scoring: snare-drum rattling against a pianissimo rustle of violins, the gurgling woodwind laughter of the maidens of Saari, and the impressionistic blur of sound that introduced Rachael Pankhurst’s tender, improvisatory cor anglais solo in The Swan of Tuonela.
And yet the pacing remained taut, the cumulative build-up and release of energy overwhelming – and the players, leaning into their stands and exchanging discreet smiles, seemed energised.”     …
.Review by Hedy Mühleck, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “She allowed complete freedom in the  wide, soft opening flute lines of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune , and moulded the CBSO with elegant movements not unlike those of a dancer. She established an atmosphere of great calm without losing the sense of underlying excited tension and shimmering of heat.

23-year-old pianist Beatrice Rana completed the line-up and seemed ideal casting for Schumann’s only completed piano concerto that had been written for – and championed by – Schumann’s wife Clara. While the opening call to attention and the following lines were slightly blurred by a lot of pedal, her playing was remarkably unobtrusive, her movements minimal and modest, her phrasing clear. Supported by a softer orchestral tone with strong emotional focus, she floated through the first movement with only the briefest instance of rush when an immense distance on the keyboard just could not be travelled safely without use of a small rubato.

She brought out the sweeping upwards lines in the Allegro vivace with a round, full-bodied sound despite distinctly unpretentious playing. It drew all strength of stroke from her fingers and wrists, supported by the forearms; hardly ever did she use the full arm, let alone body for emphasis, gestures remained small, the wrists only lifting slightly to breathe. Minor ensemble issues where the melodic line appears in the orchestra and, in ornamented form, in the piano, were quickly caught and made for a stirring close, complemented by an equally wonderful encore, Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s Widmung.”     …


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is a 29-year-old Lithuanian, who is currently assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She conducted the CBSO for the first time last July, and made such an impression with the orchestra and the audience that she was invited back for this specially arranged concert.

It was easy to understand why she has gone down so well in Birmingham. Her platform style is certainly distinctive: Gražinytė-Tyla began with Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune, applying the dabs of orchestral colour with sharp stabs of her baton, and sculpting the larger shapes of the music with sweeping gestures. But for once such balletic poses really did communicate something wonderfully alive and detailed to the players, a performance with fresh, clear textures and an unswerving sense of shape.

In Sibelius’s Lemminkäinen Suite, too, there was that same attention to every morsel of detail, and the same knack of moulding each of the four movements into a convincing dramatic shape, even in the opening Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari, which can seem rather unruly. The last movement was built to a terrific climax, too, after she had favoured the alternative ordering for the middle two movements, with the Swan of Tuonela third in the sequence, though that hardly helps the narrative that underpins Sibelius’s scheme.”     …


Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Ms Gražinytė-Tyla reversed the order of the middle two movements, as printed in the programme, so that we heard The Swan of Tuonela third. She may be quite slight of stature but there was no doubting her command in this performance of the Legends. In fact, though the preceding works had shown her in an impressive light I think it was in the Sibelius that she truly came into her own.    

There was conviction and colour aplenty in Lemminkäinen and the Maidens of Saari. The atmosphere of the piece was very well conveyed in an exciting and sometimes powerful performance.  Lemminkäinen in Tuonela is the most dramatic of the four pieces and Ms Gražinytė-Tyla established in the opening bars a high degree of tension which was never lost. I thought this was a gripping performance, especially during the last few minutes, and it seemed to me that both conductor and orchestra displayed a strong understanding of the composer’s sound world. The opening of The Swan of Tuonela was bleak and doleful; Rachel Pankhurst’s cor anglais solos were keening and expressive. The playing of everyone involved in this movement was concentrated and highly controlled. This was eloquent music-making. In Lemminkäinen’s Return his mother has found his slain body and restores him to life, enabling him to ride home in triumph. From the start this performance had terrific drive and energy. The CBSO’s playing was colourful and rhythmically strong, urged on by their highly animated young conductor. Lemminkäinen came home triumphantly.

This was a terrific concert containing three highly contrasted, expertly delivered performances. Musically, each performance was extremely satisfying. On this evidence Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is already a highly accomplished conductor who genuinely has something to say about the music she conducts. It seemed to me that the CBSO responded very positively to her. Who knows how the process of the selection of the CBSO’s new principal conductor will pan out? But whatever the outcome I hope we shall see much more of this exciting young conducting talent in Birmingham. 




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