Thursday, 8 January 2009

In Memoriam Michael Tippett

Today is the anniversary of the death of Sir Michael Tippett, & last week was the anniversary of his birth • To mark the occasion, here's a broadcast of Choral Evensong that dates back to St Peter's Day 2005, from St John's College, Cambridge • It's a recording i recently discovered in my archives, on a video cassette, so the quality doesn't quite live up to the digital recordings i make today; all the same, it's a nice clear reproduction, taken from digital radio • Almost all the music in the service is by Tippett, beginning with his neo-renaissance motet Plebs angelica, mellifluous & texturally very thick throughout •

The responses are by Kenneth Leighton, & they sit nicely beside Tippett's music, both being harmonically rich • With so much challenging twentieth century music in this service, the psalm chants are forgivably straightforward, but their performance is nothing of the kind • Both are gorgeous renditions, with enthralling organ accompaniments that go no little way towards capturing the drama in these vivid texts • The canticles are Tippett's setting for St John's College, & the Magnificat is brilliantly virile, startlingly muscular from the outset; & the Nunc dimittis is no less interesting for its relative softness, individual voices sounding stark, even vulnerable against a gentle choral backdrop, occasionally punctuated by the organ, contributing strange singular clusters •

Instead of a single anthem, the choir performs no fewer than all five of Tippett's Negro Spirituals from 'A Child of our Time' • They're given a thoroughly spirited performance (no pun intended), the choir quite clearly relishing the material • "Steal Away" (in my opinion the best of the five) is performed with great delicacy, & the baritone soloist is superb; & "Go down, Moses"—which, more than the others, sounds significantly weaker than its original orchestral version—is strikingly brought to life here, the final bars given a suitably authoritative tone • To finish, the voluntary is again by Tippett, his meandering, rather mundane Preludio al Vespro di Monteverdi

It was a very worthy endeavour of St John's to focus their energy on such an interesting & challenging composer on this feast day • But most of all, this is worth hearing as it's such a wonderful break from the bland fodder we're usually force-fed in these services • Here's a summary of the music:

Introit: Plebs angelica (Tippett)
Responses: Leighton
Psalms: 124, 138 (Barnby, Ley)
Canticles: Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense (Tippett)
Anthem: Five Negro Spirituals from A Child of Our Time (Tippett)
Hymn: Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones (Lasst uns erfreuen)
Organ Voluntary: Preludio al Vespro di Monteverdi (Tippett)

FLAC [58:10 | 237Mb]

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