The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. | Credit: Benjamin Ealovega

As is often the tradition at CAMA’s “International Series” of laudable touring orchestras, concerts open with some rightfully proud recounting of past appearances, befitting this 104-year-old organization’s lofty life span.

For the record, and for internal history/housekeeping, the illustrious City of Birmingham Orchestra — kicking off CAMA’s 2022-23 season last week at the Granada Theatre, and made famous by Sir Simon Rattle’s long-standing guidance — was last in town 34 years ago, with Rattle at the podium. Rattle, as local orchestra-watchers/listeners know, was in our town last spring, heading up the London Symphony Orchestra.

Birmingham’s current sensation at the podium, formerly the music director and now principal guest conductor, is the sensitive dynamo from Lithuania, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who also has led the LA Phil as assistant conductor. Things British, and not especially challenging or captivating, dominated the Granada program, with a first half awash in the middling romantic slush of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor.

Taking on the Elgar soloist honors, with a commanding subtlety and bravura to suit, was another British musician currently in the global hot seat, Sheku Kanneh-Mason (who made his Santa Barbara debut at Campbell Hall last spring with his pianist sister Isata Kanneh-Mason). As heard in Campbell Hall and again in the Granada, the cellist produces a natural and instantly persuasive musical sound, impeccably delivering the singings line and lithe pyrotechnical passages, but without excessive ego in the equation.

A poignant encore of an arrangement of Bach’s “Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh (Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest),” with Sheku Kanneh-Mason joined by the cello section, turned out to be a surprise, sublime bonus treat on this night.

Musical intrigue rose after intermission, with Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg’s “Jewish Rhapsody” bearing a salty modernist palate and resemblances to the music of his influencer and professional ally Dmitri Shostakovich. Better yet, the Birmingham orchestra’s potent take on Debussy’s La Mer, with its seductive ebb and flow of energies and themes, emerging as the concert’s apex. This vaporous yet firm work tested the orchestra’s mettle in a different way than the British fare, and they scored mightily.

Sir Simon would approve.

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