Saturday, September 25, 2021
Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The London Philharmonic opened its 2021-22 season, giving its first concert with Edward Gardner as Chief Conductor, in spectacular fashion: given the LPO’s regular appearances at Glyndebourne and Gardner having been music director at ENO, an opera was a good if ambitious idea – or “lunacy” to quote Gardner – and even better that it should be Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage (1947-52), first performed at Covent Garden in 1955, John Pritchard conducting.
Owing to Shakespeare’s Dream and Mozart’s Zauberflöte, Tippett wrote his own libretto and fashioned music ecstatic, voluptuous and enchanted; exuberant too, as the LPO demonstrated with the opening measures, superbly drilled and enthusiastic playing electrifying the RFH and (for me) the airwaves.
I wonder if Gardner opened up the ‘theatre cuts’ (which were carried into Colin Davis’s 1970 staging-related recording for Philips, now on Lyrita) like Bernard Haitink did when he conducted Marriage at the Royal Opera in 1996. Whether Gardner did or didn’t, the performance was compelling, distinguished by notable solo and choral singing as well as excellent enunciation to carry the action, and the LPO revelled in Tippett’s demanding writing with a virtuoso response – sensitive and soft when required during passages of lyrical beauty – not least in the four ‘Ritual Dances’ that the composer clubbed together for concert consumption, and which appear mostly in Act II, the fourth in the next (final) Act.
This presentation yielded two hours and forty minutes of music – especially dramatic and ravishing in Act III – every second holding the ear and stimulating the imagination: a tribute to the score, Gardner’s theatrical instincts, and the performers’ skills and dedication.
Mark: Robert Murray
Jenifer: Rachel Nicholls
King Fisher: Ashley Riches
Bella: Jennifer France
Jack: Toby Spence
Sosostris: Claire Barnett-Jones
She-Ancient: Susan Bickley
He-Ancient: Joshua Bloom
London Philharmonic Choir
English National Opera Chorus
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001018z [includes a synopsis]