Troilus and Cressida contains some of William Walton’s most seductive music, as can be heard in the new e‑album from Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – their second for The British Project on Deutsche Grammophon. Out digitally today, the recording comprises the four-movement Symphonic Suite reworked and arranged from the original operatic score by Christopher Palmer. The CBSO and its charismatic conductor convey all the charm, swagger and sumptuous sonorities of this music in a performance captured live at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla has enjoyed exploring British music since her appointment as the CBSO’s Music Director five years ago. Her recent Birmingham seasons have featured scores by composers who worked with the CBSO in the decades following its foundation in 1920, from Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett to Ruth Gipps and Thea Musgrave. She and her orchestra launched The British Project last October with an interpretation of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem.

William Walton, born in 1902, forged a strong relationship with the CBSO. He conducted the orchestra in the world premiere recording of his Sinfonia concertante two months after the end of the Second World War and his music remains central to its repertoire. In 1947 he began work on his first grand opera, Troilus and Cressida, a tragic love story based on Geoffrey Chaucer’s eponymous poem and set during the tenth year of the Trojan War.

Walton intended to create what he described as an “English bel canto” opera, complete with virtuoso arias, tender love scenes and atmospheric choruses. He laboured on the score almost until its first production in December 1954 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Although its premiere was praised by one critic as “the proudest hour for British opera since [Britten’s] Peter Grimes”, the work has rarely been staged since. After Walton’s death in 1983, his publisher invited Christopher Palmer to arrange an orchestral suite from Troilus and Cressida. Lasting just over thirty minutes and taking in most of the opera’s key musical moments, Palmer’s work was guided by his desire “to remain as faithful to Walton’s original text as possible”.

“I dream about conducting the whole opera,” says Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. “Musically and dramatically, it’s super-intense – very virtuosic, very rich, with gorgeous love themes. I hear echoes of Korngold and Richard Strauss, but harmonically it’s incredibly unexpected: you just keep being astonished. It was a joy to explore Christopher Palmer’s suite of lyrical and dramatic music with my wonderful CBSO colleagues and discover the sheer beauty of Walton’s writing.”

Gražinytė-Tyla will step down from her present position in Birmingham to become the CBSO’s Principal Guest Conductor at the end of the 2021-22 season. She remains in high demand as a guest conductor elsewhere and is set to work with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra this spring. Her DG debut album, comprising Weinberg’s Symphonies Nos.2 and 21 recorded with the CBSO and Kremerata Baltica, won both the Orchestral category and the coveted Recording of the Year Award at the 2020 Gramophone Awards.