Sir Michael Tippett (1905-98)

Friday, May 12, 2023

Barbican Hall, London

It’s good that Andrew Davis continues to champion Michael Tippett’s profoundly wonderful music, here two relatively early masterpieces that were not immediately performed, and that may not point the way to later ones, when he had developed a very different style, but this current coupling was a reminder of the compassion and eloquence that Tippett’s music is capable of. Sir Andrew and the antiphonal BBCSO string groups were on top of the technical hurdles of the Concerto for Double String Orchestra (first heard in April 1940 a year after completion), exploring its energy, rhythmic panache, rapturous polyphony and glowing lyricism. If there is a nostalgic element present in the Concerto, especially the slow second movement, then Tippett looked even further back, to Bach’s Passions and Handel’s Messiah, as structural models for the politically-motivated, World-events-aware A Child of Our Time (1939-41; premiered in London, March 1944, these years more or less spanning World War II), setting his own text, a protest against man’s inhumanity to man. Davis led the solo singers (whether as characters or narrators, each was intensely involved) and the choir and orchestra (notable woodwinds) to a dramatic, soul-searching and solace-giving account in which the genius-level inclusion of Spirituals at various points throughout the score, both organic to the whole and universal in appeal, were especially affecting, with a particular frisson given to the fifth (final) one and the subsequent (hopeful?) void with which the oratorio closes, posing questions as relevant today as back then … to be asked again tomorrow and Sunday during Chandos recording sessions.

Pumeza Matshikiza (soprano); Dame Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano); Joshua Stewart (tenor); Ashley Riches (bass); BBC Symphony Chorus

BBC Proms 2022 – 6: Sir Andrew Davis conducts the BBC Philharmonic in the Fourth Symphonies of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir Michael Tippett [live BBC Radio 3 broadcast].