CBSO's "British Project" CD reviewed


Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla "The British Project" City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon)

The title here is disappointingly misleading, encouraging us to expect further releases to follow this brilliant one. But since Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla has decided to relinquish her regrettably short-lived and occasionally spasmodic music directorship of the CBSO for "family reasons" (watch this space) this project may well go no further.
Which is a huge pity, as the examples on this CD offer vibrant, fresh accounts of established masterpieces as well as of neglected ones, one of them a major one which desperately needs to become part of the repertoire canon of British music.
This is the Symphonic Suite Christopher Palmer created from William Walton's ill-starred Troilus and Cressida, which has had such a bumpy ride in the opera-house for various reasons. The opera deserves so much better.
Palmer's reconstruction brings all the essence of this beautiful music to life, from the pulsating, Sibelius-like opening , through the combined glittering and yearning of the Scherzo, and on into the searing finale. Along the way there is the surging yet troubled music for the lovers (Walton dedicated the opera to his feisty Argentinian wife Susana <SIC>), and all of this is conveyed with huge grasp and commitment by Mirga.
Tight wind colourings and eloquent solo strings add to the Mediterranean feel of the Trojan setting, looking back to Walton's First Symphony and forward to his Cello Concerto, so evocative of the lapping shores of his adopted home on the island of Ischia.
The disc begins with an Elgar Sospiri touching in its dignity, with plangent downward slurs and well-captured balance between the properly prominent harp and strings.
There follows an absolutely gripping Britten Sinfonia da Requiem, its rasping bass opening leading to a measured, muffled tread of grief much more restrained than in the composer's own recording with the New Philharmonia Orchestra half a century ago. From sustained string lines, painfully thrusting, a grinding climax gradually emerges, leading into the quicksilver Dies Irae, with lip-secure trumpets and snappy rhythms.
The disintegration of this movement is almost balletic, a la Prokofiev (Death of Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet), leading us into the gentle, still quietly lamenting Requiem Aeternam, its rocking underlay always a consoling presence.
Completing this treasurable and unmissable release is a compelling account of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, atmospherically captured in the wonderfully versatile acoustic of Birmingham's Symphony Hall.
Inner detail in the big sweeping passages adds to the impact, and the distancing of the offstage solo group evokes the sound of a consort of viols. We also get the impression of an organ sound in some of the quietly sustained passages, an effect I have noticed before, not least on the Sargent/Philharmonia recording which I have loved since the early 1960s!
In this CBSO recording the final restatement of Tallis' evocative theme, with questing viola solo, remains indelibly poignant in the memory
Christopher Morley

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