Tippett Concertos

Author: 
John Warrack
TIPPETT Concertos

TIPPETT Concertos

  • Concerto for Orchestra
  • Concerto for Violin, Viola, Cello and Orchestra

Tippett's Triple Concerto, a work of enormous richness and musical satisfaction, is also one that presents formidable problems to performers and recording engineers. For not only is the formal disposition of the work unusual, though by no means awkward to grasp with an unprejudiced ear; the soloists are in a very original relationship to one another and to the rest of the players. György Pauk, Nobuko Imai and Ralph Kirshbaum, the first performers under Sir Colin Davis, are each required to act with musical independence - for this is not a triple concerto in the normal sense of being for string trio and orchestra - and also to observe one another with great niceness: time and again the music generates a new section out of what one 'character' has proposed, though that is seldom by imitation or direct contrast, and certainly there are no accompanying passages. These soloists are masterly; but so is the orchestra, which has some passages of the greatest difficulty, and includes such unusual instruments as the bass oboe - a beautiful and neglected instrument seldom heard outside the confines of Delius's Dance Rhapsody No 1. Sir Colin directs it all with an amazing sense of freedom for so closely composed and still novel a work.

More than passing mention must go to the recording engineers. No score of Tippett's is more meticulously detailed in instructions. Not only are there very unusual instrumental combinations that must be properly balanced: Tippett issues instructions for bass clarinet "gently sustaining cello solo pizzicato", alto flute "lightly sustaining marimba", glockenspiel "light, colouring piccolo" and so forth. The greatest care must have been lavished on getting these very difficult matters of balance right, by players, conductor and engineers between them. They are not finicky details, but part of the remarkable sound of the score; and it is striking how consistently the sounds do indeed reflect Tippett's demands. In more general matters, the disposition between instrumental groups is clearly managed, with the solo group set in proper relationship with the orchestra (that is, forward from them but part of them) and the digital sound rich and lucid.

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