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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
Concerto for Orchestra (1964) [35.56]
Concerto for violin, viola, cello and orchestra (1981) [37.28]
Little Music for String Orchestra (1946) [10.53]
Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli (1953) [20.59]
Concerto for Double String Orchestra (1940) [23.44]
Fanfare for Brass [1.54]
Dance Clarion Air [4.51]
Byzantium (1991) [26.54]
LSO/Colin Davis (Triple; Concerto)
Gyorgy Pauk (violin); Nobuko Imai (viola); Ralph Kirshbaum (cello) (Triple)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Marriner (Little Music; Corelli; Concerto)
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (Fanfare)
Schola Cantorum of Oxford/Nicholas Cleobury (Dance)
Faye Robinson (sop)/Chicago SO/Georg Solti
rec 1964-91 ADD/DDD
DECCA The British Music Collection 470 196-2 [2CDs: 154.52]

 

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While the British Music Collection is in standard livery it mixes double CD sets with single discs and in one case (Walton) a four CD box. This Tippett set is a 'twofer' compactly accommodated in a single-width hinged case.

Universal had plenty of recordings from which to choose amongst Philips and Decca masters. All the tracks, save the Triple Concerto and Byzantium, are in ADD sound. The Concerto for Orchestra and the Triple Concerto are Philips tapes; the rest are from the Decca stable.

The Concerto for Orchestra tape hails from 1964. It was recorded in association with the British Council shortly after its Edinburgh Festival premiere that year. The work is dedicated to Benjamin Britten to mark his fiftieth birthday. The Concerto marks the same gear change that you find between Midsummer Marriage and King Priam. It sports a spiky brilliance but not unleashed joy. It is a work of the Sixties and I wonder if it has ‘legs’. It has its attractions - the Largo in which the strings get more of a look-in. Otherwise it is one of those works that it is good to have but does it provoke affection? Not in the case of this listener.

This can be contrasted with the Triple Concerto which although sporting thornier melodic argument, and perhaps just as brilliant as the Concerto for Orchestra, is an intensely lyrical work. Do persist with it. I think that it is amongst the greatest Tippett. I recall how struck I was by the piece when I heard the Proms premiere over the radio in 1981. Listen to the yearning heart-aspiring call of the three soloists as at 3.41. This passage is graven in my memory. In this Tippett reaches back to the blindly ecstatic cradling of the Concerto for Double String Orchestra. If Vaughan Williams's Pilgrim's Progress is 'in the similitude of a dream' then this is a genetic brother - younger and more fluent, less longwinded but just as dreamlike. The sweetest lullaby and the tenderest love-making continues in the languorous core movement marked Very slow, calmer still. The finale marked Medium fast is more animated, coloured by a brilliance that intermittently recalls Bartók.

In the early 1970s Decca brought out a staggeringly successful LP of Tippett's music for strings with Neville Marriner conducting the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. The contents of that LP are all here distributed across the two discs. The quadripartite Little Music for Strings is a low key (and it must be said less inspirational) analogue of the Double Concerto. It is in the sweetest of sound and the strings retain much of their caramelised yet athletic quality - a hint of acid percolating through now. The Corelli Fantasia is searching and flooded with baroque grandeur, humanity and a twentieth century passion. This was surely the kindling for the 1970s works of Alfred Schnittke. Marriner’s is a smouldering performance, bathed in light, and evangelical for humane values. The recording still glows. The orchestra and the soloists (ASMIF principals) are all you could ask. Listen to the 'machine gun' attack of the soloists at 2.54. Then we come to the Concerto for Double String Orchestra. This stands as one of the loveable monuments of British music. Its pattering colloquy, vitality of dialogue, its lift and spin, its liberated flood of melody are all projected with delicacy and potency untrammelled. If you want to sample this work then try the last movement. For those lucky enough yet to have discovered this work think of it as a stylistic step forward from Elgar's Introduction and Allegro.

I note the chronological pulse of these concertos. The Concerto for Double String Orchestra (1940); Corelli Fantasia Concertante (1953); Concerto for Orchestra (1964) then a long hiatus until the Triple Concerto.

The two short works include the tartly shattering Fanfare and delightful Dance Clarion Air. These are followed by a substantial song-cycle with orchestra. Byzantium (based on Yeats' famous poem) was taken down from the New York performances in April 1991. This is late Tippett and I thought pretty unpromising in the first of the five songs. The melismatic Before me floats an image and At midnight offer some relief but this is otherwise a development of the fragmented trend announced by King Priam and a resiling from the humanity and communication of the Triple Concerto. No texts are provided - only Kenneth Chalmers' good compact notes.

The competition for this 2CD collection is few and far between; the best being the now deleted 4CD Nimbus set enshrining a sequence of recordings conducted by the composer during the 1980s.

For this listener the Decca collection would have been ideal if the Concerto for Orchestra, Little Music and Byzantium had been substituted with A Child of Our Time and the Second Symphony.

At 154.52 this Tippett cross-section offers generous measure. It is spans the decades rather well and if I find Byzantium and the Concerto for Orchestra less than impressive that tells you more about this writer than the quality of the music. Let me recommend this set strongly for the Triple Concerto and the string works. They are something special - treasurable and pleasurable all in excellent sound.

Rob Barnett


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