The British Project (CBSO/Gražinytė-Tyla)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (DG)
The British Project
Elgar: Sospiri; Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem; Walton: Symphonic Suite ‘Troilus and Cressida’ (arr. Palmer); Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla
DG 486 1547 70:31 mins
The Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla brings a fresh-eared approach to four English masters of orchestral writing. It probably takes an ‘outsider’ to reveal such startling juxtapositions: the wistful strains of Elgar’s Sospiri followed by the bludgeoning might of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem presents a contrast in character and in colour, Elgar’s restrained string and harp scoring an effective foil to Britten’s fiery and gleaming orchestral palette. The same jolt happens in reverse when Walton’s vibrantly scored Troilus and Cressida (in the form of the Symphonic Suite compiled by Christopher Palmer) is followed by the serene strains of Vaughan Williams’s all-strings Tallis Fantasia.
The Fantasia, rapt and mysterious, receives the most successful performance. I am less convinced by those of its companions. The Elgar is an arrangement of a salon piece, so it’s perhaps unreasonable to expect every conductor to find its yearning heart as did Barbirolli in his classic New Philharmonia Orchestra recording; still, Gražinytė-Tyla’s players appear to treat portamentos as a stylistic tic rather than a means of expression. The Britten starts well, and Gražinytė-Tyla’s unorthodox accelerando in the first movement’s development section is effective; but the performance loses steam in the ‘Dies irae’, as over-cautious articulation precludes the runaway juggernaut conjured by Britten’s own recorded account. The too-deliberate pacing of that movement’s ‘explosive’ coda lacks shock value, nor is there any sense of exhausted relief in the final ‘Requiem aeternum’. The Walton is more successful, but again the over-deliberate playing of woodwind arabesques and Gražinytė-Tyla’s too plodding approach to tempo short-changes the music’s energy and rhythmic ‘spring’.