Gražinytè-Tyla makes outstanding showing with MET Orchestra

Sat May 19, 2018 at 1:07 pm
Mirga foofof conducted thr MET Orchestra Friday night at Carnegie Hall.

Mirga Gražinytè-Tyla conducted the MET Orchestra Friday night at Carnegie Hall.

Friday’s news brought a reminder that the Metropolitan Opera has been in flux this season-the company is now countersuing previous artistic director James Levine, who had already filed a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination.

If any of this ongoing tabloid turmoil has touched the MET Orchestra, they showed not a bit of it Friday night at Carnegie Hall. Led by conductor Mirga Gražinytè-Tyla and with mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili singing Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death, the orchestra turned in a performance that was exemplary in every way.

Opening with Debussy’s Prélude a l’aprés-midi d’un faune, and finishing in the second half with Symphony No. 4 by Tchaikovsky, the orchestra did everything—they played with delicacy and power, expertly balanced sections and colors, produced a sound with a tactile, physical presence at all dynamic levels, crafted beautiful phrases, and in the end played with thrilling energy,

Music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Gražinytè-Tyla turned in quite a performance as well. She shared as much credit as the orchestra for the quality of the music making, and had one looking forward to her guest stint with the New York Philharmonic next season.

While small in stature—Rachvelishvili towered over her—she projected impressive command on the podium. Her baton technique was clear, precise when rhythm was the key, then shaping phrases with balletic and idiosyncratic motions. She seemed to be playing an invisible instrument, and even dancing, along with conducting.

Rachvelishvili also impressed. Her voice is superb, big but with an unexpectedly light tone as needed. She wielded those two qualities together with a sense of drama, singing the “Lullaby” and much of the “Serenade” with an understated plainness, then exploding with raw pathos–always with a beautiful sound.

The program was itself all drama, storytelling through music—alongside the songs, Debussy’s music was made for the ballet, and Tchaikovsky’s symphony is the story of a struggle against fate. There was also the subtle, musicological story of the bridge Mussorgsky’s work built between Russian and French music in the late 19th century.

The performances were broader and deeper than just narratives, and the drama consistently came out of precise musical elements, like tempo and dynamics. in L’aprés-midi, the concert opened with flutist Seth Morris playing solo, and his limpid legato and flexible timbre and colors gripped the listener immediately. Gražinytè-Tyla brought in the orchestra quietly and with a subtle bite. The performance was as sensual and sonically beautiful as one should expect in Debussy, and had an underlying, unhurried, cogent urgency, a directed drive.

Anita R

Anita Rachvelishvili

Rachvelishvili had the same in her singing. She held back in the “Lullaby,” and was contained in the “Serenade” until her pleading, low register singing of lines like “You have bewitched me, O love.” Up to that point, she was clearly holding back an expressive quality, which paid off with a gorgeous romantic ache, singing that hits the gut and shares something sorrowful. The expressive pain of that was mixed with the musical beauty.

After intermission, Gražinytè-Tyla and the MET musicians delivered a glorious, explosive Symphony No. 4. Tchaikovsky in the concert hall and on recordings tends to accrete a bourgeois sensibility of music as entertainment rather than art. This performance was music as high art.

The announcement of the “fate” theme was stern and played with the classic sounds of bright trumpets and full-bodied, mellow lower brass. That was an indication of the whole interpretation which, as in Debussy’s piece, was a mix of superb musical skill—attention to intonation and the best possible sound—and a complete embrace of the psychological and emotional breadth and depth of the symphony.

Alternating moods and states, especially the juxtapositions of ideas in the developmental and transitional sections of the opening movement, were as exciting and satisfying as an adventure story, and absolutely apt for this piece. Gražinytè-Tyla guided the orchestra to extremes of anguish, turmoil, and also repose and good humor.

The Scherzo was notably non troppo for the Allegro marking, which produced an unusual weight. That would not have worked in every context, but this performance had a constant sense of meaning and importance, a seriousness into which the Scherzo fit. The finale began with tremendous verve, and concluding with an almost frenzied joy.

The MET Orchestra plays Mozart and Mahler, with violinist James Ehnes and conductor Gianandrea Noseda 8 p.m. May 30

One Response to “Gražinytè-Tyla makes outstanding showing with MET Orchestra”

  1. Posted May 19, 2018 at 5:52 pm by John Howes

    Dear Mr. Grella: My compliments on your review, which hit all the nails right on their heads. My wife and I attended last night’s concert. I had never heard the Tchaikovsky 4th performed the way it was last night. Even Koussevitzky would have been impressed. Mirga Gražinytè-Tyla is the real deal. Last night was the third time we’ve seen her in action.She’s already made a tremendous impact and has a great future ahead of her. John Howes

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