For the last few years I have followed the career of the Lithuanian conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla with considerable interest. She was the “shock” appointment as Musical Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra after Andris Nelsons departed for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Having established her credentials in her first season with the orchestra she has now embarked upon her second season and kicked off with a performance of the The Creation by Haydn (it should be remembered that much of her early career was conducting choirs). Below is a the Daily Telegraphs music critics review of the performance. The CBSO seem to have chosen wisely in their appointment.
The Creation CBSO/Gražinytė-Tyla Symphony Hall, Birmingham ★★★★★
As links go between the most unloved English towns and greatest composers, there is nothing more unlikely than Haydn’s visit to Slough in the 1790s. He went there to see the astronomer William Herschel and his celebrated observatory, and it would be nice to think that the experience gave him inspiration (“The heavens are telling the glory of God”) for The Creation, set to an anonymous libretto based on Milton’s Paradise Lost. The famous symphonist certainly returned to Vienna with the idea of writing a work in the form English audiences venerated most: the oratorio.
Still known as everything from “father of the symphony” to “Papa Haydn”, the composer may be venerated as a musicians’ musician, but too many orchestras and conductors today pay lip service rather than make him central to their programming. Not so the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: its former music director Simon Rattle has long been something of a Haydn specialist, and conducted The Creation in Birmingham many times and recorded it with the CBSO. Having already stamped her mark on Haydn symphonies in Birmingham, the CBSO’s exciting new music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla has now opened her second season with this choral masterpiece.
Right from the opening “Representation of Chaos”, Gražinytė-Tyla coaxed urgent detail from the score with mercurial flicks of the baton. Taking consistent delight in the music, she was an energising force in a period-conscious performance where the strings played without vibrato and the orchestra included natural trumpets and a fortepiano. Hearing this was like seeing an old Biblical painting restored, its layers of accrued varnish removed by a loving curator; there was nothing of the traditional piety here, just the freshness of the Creation story. But then this truly is music that breathes the spirit of the Enlightenment, and Gražinytė-Tyla showed how much it has in common with Mozart’s almost contemporaneous opera The Magic Flute.
The CBSO had a fine line-up of singers. Lydia Teuscher sounded dewy-fresh in the soprano solos, Thomas Hobbs’s gleaming tenor had natural delivery, and Matthew Brooks brought story-telling warmth to the bass-baritone roles. Best of all, I have never heard the choruses sound better. Simon Halsey had drilled the CBSO Chorus to sing with incisive power, and Gražinytė-Tyla’s own background in choral conducting was felt too. Let’s hope she adds The Magic Flute to her plans for operas in concert in Birmingham. John Allison
- I am indebted to the Daily Telegraph for the above review.