The second of two appearances by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla at this year’s Aldeburgh Festival was a shared programme with Trio Isimsiz, the latter playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio written in 1882 in memory of Nikolai Rubinstein. Tchaikovsky disliked the piano-trio configuration, claiming it “a torture to have to listen to”, but this did not prevent him from writing a large-scale masterpiece combining romantic splendour and structural individuality. Trio Isimsiz combined a smoothly blended balance with generally well-defined outlines. Michael Petrov’s cello seduced early on in the opening ‘Pezzo elegiaco’, shaping its autumnal main theme with warmth and sensitivity, answered by Pablo Hernán’s sweetly eloquent violin. Erdem Misirlioğlu’s buoyant contribution rarely intruded on this lyrically-rich canvas and, without being overbearing, he caught nicely rhythmic impetuses while rippling figuration sparkled with calm dignity. Occasionally, one might have wished dramatic passages to be more assertive and for violinist and cellist to possess a wider expressive and dynamic range, but these are quibbles in what was a highly refined and musically intelligent performance. The second movement, an extended Theme-and-Variations (Tchaikovsky at his most brilliantly resourceful), was given vivid colouring, whether scintillating and light-fingered or airy and rustic, and always with keen precision. During the closing bars, the players mesmerised with beauty of tone and compassion. As given here, Hanslick’s assertion at its Vienna premiere that the Trio “belongs to that category of suicidal compositions which kill themselves by their merciless length” couldn’t be wider of the mark.
Then Gražinytė-Tyla conducted a vital account of Petrushka, in its revised version. Particularly striking was the dynamism she achieved from the CBSO, often through minimal gestures but which impressed either in well-executed cameo roles or in the iron discipline and positive energy of tutti passages. Starting with an unhurried but jostling ‘Shrovetide Fair’, events unfolded in a well-paced reading, fusing the music’s folk and balletic elements with vivid characterisation that brought clarity to Petrushka, Ballerina and Moor. Organ-grinder (clarinet) and magician (flute) made cleanly articulated appearances and a sobbing bassoon cut the air. Wailing trumpets and hammering timpani added to the revelry and the climatic and eerie ending was managed with great aplomb. The spirit of the dance continued with the encore, the second-movement ‘Waltz’ from Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento written in 1980 for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s centennial.