Tippett The Rose Lake; Vision of St Augustine

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Tippett The Rose Lake; Vision of St Augustine

  • (The) Rose Lake
  • (The) Vision of St Augustine

Tippett has let it be known thatThe Rose Lakewill be his last orchestral work, but except in the primacy it gives to melody it does not sound valedictory. It is based on the profound impression made on him, during a holiday in Senegal, of a small lake which at midday was transformed from whitish green to translucent pink. Tippett imagines the lake singing and frames the five verses of its song with glittering ostinatos and bright toccatas, with much tuned percussion including three octaves of the rototoms of which he made such effective use in Byzantium.
It is a simple, rondo-like structure but a satisfying one, with the lake first awakening (calm, woodland horns), its song then echoing from the sky (woodwind and string counterpoint) and reaching ‘full song’ (a long, eloquent string line underpinned by drums) at the centre. The latter half of the work is not a literal mirror-image of the first but a series of poetic and ingenious ‘doubles’ of what went before, ending with magical horn calls quite recalling those in The Midsummer Marriage, a quiet rattle of xylophone and rototoms and, as a surprising coda, an abrupt sequence of staccato wind chords. I was reminded here of an interview with Sir Michael which ended with him telling his interlocutor “That’s enough: you can make up the rest yourself”.
It is a lovely and a moving piece, brimming with characteristically Tippettian melody. Almost as important, it is of just the right length to couple with the composer’s own recording of one of his greatest but also one of his least often performed masterpieces. The Vision of St Augustine is hideously difficult to perform, but the choral singing here is quite heroic, and John Shirley-Quirk’s account of the taxing solo part is nothing short of superb. With its frequent setting of two texts simultaneously, both of them attempting to communicate the incommunicable, it is a difficult work to take in on an isolated hearing, which is all that it has ever had in live performance. On further acquaintance it reveals itself as truly visionary and profoundly moving. This, in short, is an essential coupling for all admirers of Tippett’s music. Sir Colin Davis’s account of The Rose Lake is as urgently communicative as Tippett’s own of the cantata, and the older recording is by no means put in the shade by the newer: both are excellent.MEO

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