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Rachel Nicholls, et al: Tippett’s Symphonies Nos. 3, 4 & B Flat — music haunts for days

Rachel Nicholls, et al: Tippett’s Symphonies Nos. 3, 4 & B Flat — music haunts for days

March 08
00:17 2019

Name the great symphonies of the past 50 years. There are fewer contenders than one might think. Tippett’s Symphony No. 4 surely deserves to be near the top of the list but, despite its high-profile premiere in Chicago in 1977, the work is rarely played outside the UK, which is everybody else’s loss.

This latest release completes a new cycle of Tippett’s symphonies by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It comprises a two-disc set, including Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4, and comes with a major, unexpected bonus, a previously unknown Symphony in B Flat, composed when Tippett was 28 and getting its first-ever recording here.

Start with the Symphony No. 4. Here is the journey from birth to death, emerging with the sound of human breathing and then teeming with life, all in music so memorable that it haunts one’s mind for days afterwards. It would be good to have more technical virtuosity than the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra brings to it, but Brabbins displays a hot line to Tippett’s seething imagination.

The Symphony No. 3 is a more difficult nut to crack, a dystopian equivalent of Beethoven’s Ninth, written for a generation that had lived through the horrors of two world wars. The slow movement is a comparable vision of a land now at peace, less Arcadian than Beethoven’s, but more earthily real. The “Ode To Joy” has become a sequence of blues songs, strongly sung by Rachel Nicholls.

As for the newly discovered Symphony in B Flat, that sounds nothing like Tippett at all. If the young Sibelius had invited Brahms for afternoon tea in Helsinki, their conversation might just have made music like this. Worth hearing once, possibly more.


Tippett: Symphonies Nos. 3, 4 & B Flat’ is released by Hyperion

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