CBSO, Mirga and The Rite of Spring by Christopher Morley

I've never felt it necessary to mention that Andris Nelsons is a man, and accordingly that Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla is a woman; they are just both brilliant conductors. But this concert was rather special, in that, seven months into her pregnancy, Mirga at last relaxed into the same high-backed stool that Andris used to use, to conduct the amazingly energetic programme which was her last programme with the CBSO this season, broadcast live on BBC Radio3 (my spies tell me that she discarded the stool for the next day's matinee).
This was an astonishingly well-conceived programme which began with Stravinsky paying homage to his predecessors, including surprising evocations of Wagner whilst presaging his own Firebird, in the only recently-rediscovered Funeral Song, dedicated to the memory of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov.
And we concluded with a buoyantly lyrical Rite of Spring, Stravinsky casting off the shackles of traditional harmony and rhythm, deploying instead an orchestra of Wagnerian proportions to pound us into a new century of musical language. 
Under Mirga's direction, preceded by a beautiful rendition of various Lithuanian folk-songs informing the score, the fabulous CBSO Youth Orchestra led off by Mirga herself, this was the most rhythmic of readings, possibly too relaxed, until the tension of the build-up to the Dance of Death. Neither Stravinsky not choreographers can ever get this impossible requirement right, but here Mirga and her willing CBSO came very near it.
Between all this Stravinsky came the grim Violin Concerto no.1 by his great successor Shostakovitch (though somehow I doubt they'd have much to say to each other at a party). Nicola Benedetti was the tireless soloist in this work which combines gritty moto perpetuo with sustained lyrical outbursts, soaring above all its demands both technical and musical.
This was an exhausting but rewarding performance for us all, and thank goodness there were no braying hoorayers in the packed audience demanding an encore.
Christopher Morley

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