January 20, 2020
Symphony Hall, BirminghamMid-way through a Mahler symphony cycle, the conductor brought tremendous energy to his Eighth, with the female soloists, particularly, glorious
CBSO/Gražinytė-Tyla review – massed forces rise to a monumental Mahler
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is taking it steadily, but she is already almost halfway through a Mahler cycle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Unlike some conductors, who postpone the Eighth Symphony until the end of the cycle, Gražinytė-Tyla tackled the monumental score as her fourth Mahler project at Symphony Hall, with the CBSO, its Chorus, Youth Chorus, Children’s Choir and eight soloists, reinforced with the University of Birmingham Voices and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. It may not have been the “symphony of a thousand” that the Eighth was labelled as at its first performance, but some 500 performers were crammed on to the stage, spilling around the sides of the auditorium.
With such forces the performance could hardly fail to be a stirring, grand occasion. Gražinytė-Tyla launched into the first part, the huge Veni Creator Spiritus hymn, with tremendous energy, giving a spiky, almost shrill edge to its orchestral interludes, and favouring aural impact over long, beautiful vocal lines. The second part, setting the final scene of Goethe’s Faust, presents very different challenges, and its hour-long arc was not always convincingly sustained – more the work’s fault, you suspect, than the conductor’s.
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