Tippett Music for Strings
The latest Tippett disc from Chandos and Richard Hickox follows hard on the heels of an EMI British Composers issue from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields which duplicates three of the four works included here. Such close competition may well be commercially healthy, but it still seems sad that relatively few collectors are likely to feel the need to buy both – eminently worthwhile though each is in most respects.
The advantage Chandos have is in securing the first recording of the orchestral version of Tippett’s major song-cycle, The Heart’s Assurance. EMI’s Sonata for four horns may seem relatively slight beside this, although it is a fine piece, and 100 per cent genuine Tippett. I would also question whether, in exchanging the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for the City of London Sinfonia in this Tippett series, Chandos and Hickox have ensured the availability of a sufficiently weighty string tone for the Concerto for Double String Orchestra.
This is Tippett’s first masterwork, and it’s marvellous to have a recording that does justice to all those antiphonal textural subtleties – something Barshai’s 1962 account for EMI could never claim to do. I’d have liked a touch more brio in the first movement, and – as indicated above – a richer, stronger tone in places: for example, the slow movement’s sublime outer sections. But this is still a very satisfying performance, not least because the finale comes across with such a winning blend of vitality and eloquence.
Meirion Bowen’s orchestration of The Heart’s Assurance has Tippett’s approval, and it is undoubtedly a resourceful piece of work. What makes the effect so different from the voice and piano original is that the all-important doublings of voice and instrument seem so much more prominent when the instrument in question can sustain the sound for as long as the voice itself. For this reason I retain a strong preference for the original, and in addition, despite John Mark Ainsley’s excellent contribution to this recording, the final song doesn’t build to its overwhelming climax as inexorably as it should.
With the far-from-miniature Little Music and the even more substantial Divertimento on Sellinger’s Round this is another valuable Tippett issue from Chandos, and the recording is satisfyingly rich in detail and atmosphere. So, while my recommendation may not be quite as unreserved as AA’s was for the EMI disc, there is nothing here that will disappoint, and the inclusion of The Heart’s Assurance will surely prove a special attraction to all Tippett enthusiasts.'