TIPPETT Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
This disc launches the first 21st-century cycle of Tippett’s symphonies, and does so in great style. During the later years of the composer’s long life, both Colin Davis (Decca, 7/90) and Richard Hickox (Chandos, 10/94, 4/95) were able to show that early doubts about the viability of Tippett’s often intricate polyphonic writing in his orchestral scores were unjustified. But his official Symphony No 1 (1944 45) – there was a predecessor (1933), later withdrawn – remains a challenge to conductors as well as to recording technology, a challenge which this new version surmounts with polish and panache. Easily the equal of his distinguished predecessors in this repertory, Martyn Brabbins gives maximum weight to the way Tippett turns expectation on its head in the symphony’s outer movements. Both end quietly; but while the first sustains its energetic pulsation to the last, the fourth turns its initially exuberant spirit to ashes, its elaborate fugal processes freezing and fragmenting. It remains a startling conception, rooted in the tensions and tragedies of the composer’s personal life and offering as bleak a perspective on immediately post-war civilisation as Vaughan Williams would do with his Symphony No 6 (1944 47).
More than a decade later, Tippett’s Second Symphony (1956 57) also deals with complex emotional states but his music has evolved to project a more sharply focused balance between harmony and polyphony, dramatising the contrast between obsessive rootedness at one extreme and freely floating arcs of melody at the other. By showing how the central movements complement and balance the outer ones, Brabbins gives the music maximum cogency. In particular, he shapes the tricky finale so persuasively that its climactic surges of melody and the vibrant cadences in which they find a degree of repose have an affirmative yet ambivalent inevitability that must surely be exactly what Tippett was aiming at. This is remarkable music-making, and recorded with all the appropriate richness of colour and clarity of textural detail.