The British Project [HD]

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla / City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

(Digital Download - Deutsche Grammophon #)

Review by James Manheim

The British Project is composed of four separate performances by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and its young conductor, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, issued as digital-only single performances by the Deutsche Grammophon label during the pandemic and compiled into a single album in 2021. It's not clear whether the whole thing was in the performers' sights at the beginning, but it may as well have been; it's a coherent and effective program. With Elgar's lovely Sospiri, Op. 70, as a kind of preamble, Gražinytė-Tyla launches into Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20. This work is not exactly obscure, but it's a youthful piece much less often heard than its cousin, the War Requiem, Op. 66. The all-orchestral work was composed in 1939 under a commission from the Japanese government, which was not pleased with the results, but its uneasy mood seems newly relevant, and Gražinytė-Tyla catches Britten's ambitions. She gives a colorful performance of Walton's Symphonic Suite from Troilus and Cressida. Perhaps the best introduction to why Gražinytė-Tyla is creating such a fuss is the beautifully controlled performance here of the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis of Ralph Vaughan Williams, a work that is anything but obscure. Rather than pour on the lushness from the start, Gražinytė-Tyla leaves room for it to acquire additional resonance as the work proceeds, and the result is an extremely involving performance. Recorded in Birmingham and at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the album is well mastered into a sonic whole. A fine British Project.