CBSO/Mirga Weinberg, Mahler review


Symphony Hall ****
After the disappointment of last week's concert having to be Covid-cancelled it was good to return to the CBSO, and to welcome back principal conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla for a Mahler sandwich, his Ruckert-Lieder tucked between two slices of Weinberg.
Mirga and the CBSO have made something of a speciality of Mieczyslaw Weinberg in recent years, revealing his music to the British public, and winning a Gramophone "Record of the Year" accolade in the process. They began here with his Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, written with a view to pacifying the populist diktats of Stalin's policies towards the arts, and immediately attractive in its vivid use of folk-material.
The CBSO have done wonders in accommodating a socially-distanced full orchestra on the versatile, capacious Symphony Hall stage, and it was just so good to hear a full complement of low strings digging darkly into the music's opening (for all their worthiness, reduced ensembles are at best a compromise). An exhilarating interplay between the string-led orchestra and instrumental solos followed, Mirga (her conducting now more gracefully calm than the elfin exuberance with which she introduced herself to us) finding exactly the right gear for all the tempo-changes.
This is a score speaking with a Central/Eastern European lingua franca, derived in many respects from the inflections of Jewish music (the excellent horn solo here evoked Mahler's Fifth Symphony), and much of it could so easily be mistaken for a Romanian Rhapsody by Enescu.
And this problem of association was even more apparent in Weinberg's Symphony no. 3 which concluded the programme. Again, this is a work calculated not to cross the party lines, yet it begins rustlingly, like a Sibelius symphony, bursts into a military episode followed by uneasy solace which reminds so much of Nielsen, and ends with a finale which left me bewildering that we might have strayed into Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, celebrating the death of Stalin, oppressor of all artistic innovation. And occasionally I thought of Vaughan Williams and Malcolm Arnold -- no connections there, of course, but further examples of Weinberg's subconscious eclecticisim.
For all my reservations about the music, this was a performance delivered by Mirga's CBSO with a huge sense of style, and each and every instrumental soloist received deserved applause.
But it was the filling in the sandwich which brought the greatest satisfaction, Karen Cargill totally attuned to every nuance of the Mahler without overwhelming it with fussy detail. Scrupulous diction and well-shaped tone allowed her to invest each of these five songs with so much character, whether radiantly floated or bleakly hollow, ending with the otherworldly serenity she brought to the concluding "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen".
Orchestral collaboration under Mirga was rapt throughout, and so were we in the audience, applause withheld until the spell died away.
Christopher Morley

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