Barts Choir – Tippett’s A Child of Our Time

Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
A Child of Our Time

Rebecca Ryan (soprano)
Jeanette Ager (mezzo-soprano)
Wynne Evans (tenor)
Andrew Foster-Williams (bass-baritone)

St Bartholomew’s Hospital Choral Society (Barts Choir)
Alei Gefen Chorus

New London Soloists Orchestra
Ivor Setterfield

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 18 April, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

An ambitious programme, one thoughtfully linking two great composers, Tippett a huge admirer of Beethoven, both works concerned with profoundly human issues, the concert itself being a charitable affair on behalf of John Grooms (see link below).

The Eroica was swiftly dispatched, a metronome-conscious reading that allowed vibrato and a certain rhythmic springiness. The playing was decent enough, with personable woodwinds and horns, if occasionally ragged, the hard-working section principals, not least the Leader (none of the personnel were listed) all ensuring that things were kept together. Ivor Setterfield was clearly enjoying himself, although he might have been more attentive to the music at times; nevertheless, this was a likeable if rather urbane performance that never really suggested the far-reaching connotations of Beethoven’s creation. In its lightweight way, it passed 45 minutes (that’s all, and this included the first-movement exposition repeat) quite pleasurably, more a Sinfonia giocoso than the title page’s Sinfonia eroica, but the coda was a bit of a blur and one wonders at the authority of a string quartet beginning the finale’s country-dance episode. Another folio found in a loft and signed LvB?

Michael Tippett’s deeply moving oratorio, one using traditional templates as a foundation for a contemporary update of the form, may have been ignited by events of the Second World War, but it is a telling commentary, still, on “man’s inhumanity to man” (the composer’s inspiration). This performance was worthy, the large Barts Choir very well prepared and singing with skill and commitment, altogether excellent in fact, and joined by Israeli colleagues, but the equality between chorus and orchestra was ill-judged; the sheer number of choral singers rendering the orchestra (a few down in members anyway) an inequality that made Tippett’s careful balances seem much less than that. The orchestral playing, anyway, although again hard-working, did show up a lack of rehearsal and familiarity; indeed, a few seconds in the performance broke down and was re-started; maybe it was just the boost to get things onto a more concentrated level. Even so, some tempos dragged, and some sections hung fire. The Spirituals (what an inspired idea by Tippett to include these) were movingly done. Of the soloists, Andrew Foster-Williams delivered with real involvement and intensity (the latter was another quality the performance lacked sometimes) while Jeanette Ager was somewhat at one-remove.

If neither traversal did full justice to these great works, at least both made an impression – let’s hope ultimately that the coffers were filled, justification enough for putting the concert on.

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