Praeludium for Brass, Bells and Percussion
Concerto for Double String Orchestra
A Child of Our Time
Catharine Rogers (soprano)
Kristin Finnigan (contralto)
Sam Boden (tenor)
John Savournin (bass)
The Tippett Choir
Trinity College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 9 December, 2004
Venue: Concert Hall, Blackheath Halls, London SE3
The Tippett celebrations start here: Michael Tippett’s centenary occurs on 2 January next year. He was a great British original – at one with his times, and with previous centuries (musically speaking), sometimes in sympathy, sometimes questioning: always with humanity and diversity.
Trinity College of Music did Tippett proud. The brass players had a valiant go at the Praeludium and caught its sonority and melody well; but the exposed writing fell foul to inexperience. Good, though, to hear this expansive and pithy work (and to reflect that Tippett shares with Birtwistle a sense of ritual and perspective). Also the opportunity to read the composer’s note on the music, for the first performance, was instructive; the brass deployment is that of The Rite of Spring, which (presumably) was heard in the concert that featured Praeludium’s premiere. Immediately impressive was Garry Walker’s poised and dedicated conducting: he guided his charges without fuss and always to the point.
The Concerto for Double String Orchestra takes us back twenty-plus years, to the late ‘thirties, for one of Tippett’s richest works: music of vitality, of singing, and with contrapuntal mastery – for the music itself and between the two string groups. An indivisible masterpiece of many frisson-making moments, Tippett’s homage to and appreciation of past models, and his take on pastoralism, is both complete and individual. This beguiling, fresh, often ecstatic work received a very secure performance, thoughtfully balanced and was a real tribute to the players’ ensemble skills and Walker’s clarity. Maybe the outer movements were a little cautious, but always acutely balanced, and while the finale’s closing bars could have expanded a little more, and the grace notes could have been a little more ‘melodic’, the slow movement was wonderfully well done, beautifully played and shaded, intense and modulated. (In January NMC issues a remarkably ardent account of this music, under Walter Goehr, from 1943; the source material is not pristine, and while the re-mastering is good, it’s not unimpeachable – but what a performance! NMC D103.)
A Child of Our Time was also a riveting experience, an expansive performance full of drama and atmosphere. There was some excellent woodwind playing and, above all, a real team spirit. Invidious, maybe, to highlight, but the 50-strong chorus was outstanding in its projection and unanimity. No surprise to learn that the singers, all students from Trinity, were prepared by Terry Edwards.
This direct-speaking work, rooted in Bach’s Passions and Handel’s Oratorios, the template updated, made relevant (still) and sparked by a Nazi-related event just pre-World War II, is universal music, absolute in one sense, deeply moving and consolatory in another; the inclusion of Spirituals a stroke of genius and no add-on. Garry Walker got to the heart of the work, and his pacing and control were admirable. Of the soloists both Catharine Rogers and Sam Boden especially impressed.
This concert played to an encouragingly full house, one that seemed both absorbed and moved by the music. These performances demonstrated the gut honesty of Tippett’s music, also the influence of Stravinsky on him, and proved a splendid showcase for all the performers. Garry Walker’s focussed conducting was ideal to hurdle the numerous technical difficulties of this music; the audience heard powerful, sensitive and eloquent renditions.