MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2023
Approaching 60,000 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             



AmazonUK   AmazonUS


Sir Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
Concerto for Double String Orchestra (1938-39) [24:43]
Fantasia Concertante on a theme of Corelli (1953) [18:39]
Songs for Dov (1970) [27:01]
John Tunnell and Rosemary Ellison (violins), Kevin McCrae (‘cello),
Nigel Robson (tenor), Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Michael Tippett
Recorded in City Hall, Glasgow, 31st July and 1st August 1987
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 86588 2 8 [70:53]

Error processing SSI file


Two of Tippett’s most lovable works, together with one of his, for me at any rate, more problematic.  Let me deal with the problem first; the Songs for Dov are an off-shoot of the opera The Knot Garden, first seen at Covent Garden in 1970 – though paradoxically, the songs were heard before the opera’s première.  The character Dov is a gay black American. His hedonism and cultural eclecticism dominate much of the second act of the strange, convoluted drama that is The Knot Garden

The first and second songs begin with Dov’s dog-like baying (“Bow-wow, bow-wow” read the songs’ titles helpfully), before settling into the more angular, formalised vocal writing that we normally associate with Tippett.  These howling sounds inevitably call to mind Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, written at exactly the same time; but the likeness goes further than animal sounds, for Tippett engages in just the same sort of patchwork of stylistic references.  The second song, for example, moves from a pseudo-Classical trumpet solo, to hints of Schubert’s “Kennst du das Land?” and Wagner’s Flying Dutchman overture, as well as many other more obscure fleeting memories.

The third song, “I passed by their home”, culminates with what seem bold statements, presented like headlines; “Talk their talk and walk that walk”, “It don’t mean a thing if it aint got that swing”, “The living language of our time is urban” – this last one shouted aggressively by the singer, followed by a brief burst of electric guitar.  Indeed the whole of this last song, as Meirion Bowen suggests in his booklet note, exudes cynicism, disillusionment and alienation, concluding with a bitter “Sure baby!”.  These songs are certainly thought-provoking, and very much ‘of their time’; it’s just that I don’t think I like Tippett very much in this mood.  It’s certainly an uncomfortable experience, though I acknowledge that, in the long run, this may be the side of his music that proves the most fruitful and influential for succeeding generations of composers.  Nigel Robson copes manfully with the crippling demands of the tenor part.

Well, a relief to turn to his less complicated – philosophically at any rate – earlier music, with the lovely Concerto for Double String Orchestra ­from the 1930s, and a work which has claims to be his finest masterpiece, the Corelli Fantasia.  Both of these are well established in the repertoire of string and chamber orchestras, and it is pleasing to have the composer’s readings back in the catalogue.  These are good performances, though I have to say that they lack something.  Tippett, though he developed into a much more than competent conductor, was never an outstanding one, and there is a certain stiffness to the rhythms in the Concerto – Marriner and the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields are surely far more convincing in the syncopations of the first movement, as they are in the growing confidence and excitement of the finale.  Similarly, in the Fantasia, though everything is in its place, the music lacks that abundant sense of exultation that, once again, Marriner and his players are able to bring to it.

A fine disc, though, and a spacious, clear recording from EMI, even if the acoustic of Glasgow City Hall is perhaps a little too boomy and impersonal for this intimate music.  And it is a great pity that there are no texts for the Songs for Dov.  Yes, they are in English, but Tippett’s vocal writing and orchestration make it impossible to catch all the words.  In any case, the texts are so complex as to call for separate study if one is to understand the complex images and allusions.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



Return to Index

Error processing SSI file