From Mirga With Love – Reciprocated

CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★

This was a concert with its collective heart in the right place and given wholehearted support from an enthusiastic audience. There’s a lot of goodwill for the people of Ukraine and other nearby countries living in the shadow of the increasingly aggressive and imperialist Russia. All the works received excellent performances and were cheered to the rafters but it would be pushing enthusiasm to the limits to say that any of it was great music. Mirga’s greatest achievement during her tenure as music director was championing Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s music. Her CBSO concert, and subsequent recording, of his Symphony No.21 was monumental and magnificent. Here we had two enjoyable but much slighter works. Oliver Janes’ displayed impressive nimbleness in the busy outer movements of the 1970 Clarinet Concerto showing Weinberg’s facility for light music. The middle andante gave hints of his greater work’s emotional depths, a melancholy dance-of-death with Janes’ solitary musings supported by plangent playing from the CBSO’s strings. The ‘Twelve Miniatures for Flute’ showcased Marie-Christine Zupancic. The work has many mercurial changes of moods in its twenty minutes, all dazzling despatched by the CBSO’s principal flute. The CBSO leader Eugene Tzikindelean was rapt and intense in the solo miniature ‘Requiem for Ukraine’ by Igor Loboda the bleakness and suppressed anger of which commemorated the Ukrainian day of Independence in the face of the 2014 invasion of the Crimea by Russia. Gražinyte-Tyla, accompanied on piano by her sister Onutė Gražinytė got the concert underway by singing a folk song from her home country of Lithuania.

Mikalojus Čiurlionis is a cultural icon in Lithuania. A polymath acclaimed as a painter, a symbolist with 300 works, poet and composer all in his short life – he died in 1911 aged 35. Expectations for his tone poem ‘In the Forest’ (1901) were high. The CBSO website fatuously called him the “Lithuanian Elgar'', while the programme notes suggested an affinity with Sibelius. This piece was no ‘Tapiola’ the land of, “ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams.” It was a pleasant, attractive but bland work: a hint of ‘Forest Murmurs’ in the opening, distant horn calls, twittering birds and harp glissandi but utterly without menace or mystery. By contrast the Georgian composer Vakhtang Kakhidze’s ‘Brotherhood’ was great fun, an unpretentious crowd-pleaser evoking smiles in players and audience alike. Scored for strings and solo piano (Gražinytė) and viola (the CBSO’s Adam Römer) it confounded expectations from an acerbic grating start (fooled you!) to the surprising mid-sentence finish with a down-bow from the strings. In between were lilting folk dances, a quasi-tango and sparky jazz section with Gražinytė and Römer channelling their inner Dave Brubeck and Stéphane Grappelli.

Norman Stinchcombe

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