Michael TIPPETT (1905-1998)
Concerto for double string orchestra (1940) [22.23]
Fantasia concertante on a theme of Corelli (1953) [18.30]
Little music for strings (1946) [10.36]
Evening canticles (1962) [7.44]*
Five negro spirituals from A child of our time (1938, arr.1958) [10.22]+
English String Orchestra/William Boughton
rec. Great Hall, Birmingham University, 27-19 June 1987 and 18-19 May 1991; * Choir of St Johnís College Cambridge/George Guest, Alexander Martin (organ); Chapel of St Johnís College, 25-17 July 1991; + Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford/Stephen Darlington; rec. Dorchester Abbey, Oxon, 14-15 May 1990
NIMBUS NI 7026 [69.35]
 
Tippettís three works for string orchestra which form the backbone of this release have made a standard coupling ever since Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martinís made their LP recording in 1972. That recording still sounds very well, and Marrinerís response to the music - which can seem somewhat cool in other English romantic repertoire - matches Tippettís contrapuntral style perfectly. Tippett himself recorded the two major works for Virgin Classics in 1988 and that version remains in the catalogue; it gives the composerís own viewpoint of his scores, but is coupled rather less felicitously with Nigel Robsonís rather unlovely performance of the Songs for Dov; this is the only recording available of these songs, but one would welcome a new recording with a more warmly lyrically voiced tenor. This Nimbus release combines the fruits of two sessions from Boughtonís English String Orchestra with extracts from two other Tippett recordings of choral music to provide an enticing package, enhanced by a lengthy and informative booklet essay by Geraint Lewis.
 
The orchestra worked with Tippett himself for a series of recordings in 1985 and 1990, so these recordings are a reflection of that partnership; he was a patron of the orchestra. One would think that he would have approved of these neatly turned performances, with the lines cleanly and precisely delivered by a small body of expert players. That said, the richer sounds that one can hear elsewhere, not least under the composer himself on Virgin, give a more romantic warmth to the music. Tippett may himself once have regarded romanticism with suspicion, but his music possesses a warmth of emotion that the composer seems to have welcomed in his own recorded performances later in his life. Nevertheless the performances here are excellently turned and certainly give a superb impression of the music.
 
George Guestís recording of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis - with their somewhat cumbersome subtitle Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense - represents the only performance in the catalogue by the choir for which these canticles were written. It must be said however that the settings show Tippett at his most angular and prickly from the opening organ fanfare onwards. If you like Tippett in his King Priam mood, you will enjoy the sprightly performance; otherwise the music may seem rather arid. The choir cope boy-and-man-fully with some extremely taxing music, and one cannot imagine the piece better done.
 
The five spirituals were extracted by Tippett at his publisherís request from his oratorio A child of our time, and his re-scoring of the orchestral material for unaccompanied chorus is expertly done. It is a shame that the result lacks much of the dramatic punch of the spirituals in their original context. This is not helped here by a performance which is polite rather than emotionally charged. The four soloists are uncredited in the booklet, but according to the original Nimbus issue (NI5266) they were Gulliver Ralston (treble), Martyn Jones (alto), Andrew Carwood and Matthew Vine (tenors) and Paul Martin, Edward Wickham and Robert MacDonald (basses). The poised Ralston produces a stunningly commanding top B in Deep river.
 
All the performances on this disc are also included in a Nimbus four-CD compilation somewhat misleadingly entitled Tippett conducts Tippett, although it does include a number of recordings where the composer does indeed conduct his own Piano Concerto and Triple Concerto as well as the Suite for the birthday of Prince Charles and extracts from The midsummer marriage (with vocal soloists and chorus). It must be said that Tippett was not a conductor like Benjamin Britten whose performances of his own music could render other interpretations obsolete. He was not a great podium technician, and sometimes his speeds are surprisingly slow for a composer; as a general rule composers tend to be quite brisk with their own inventions. Nevertheless those who admire the music of Tippett will almost certainly want the complete box. Those who would just like a sample including some of the composerís most immediately approachable music will welcome this disc in its own right.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey
 
Those who would just like a sample of some of the composerís most immediately approachable music will welcome this disc.