Tippett's Autumnal Performance of His Powerful Early Work
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 03/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Michael Tippett was a lifelong pacifist who served a brief sentence during World War II as a conscientious objector. He wrote 'A Child of Our Time' early in WW II and he wrote the text for it himself after T. S. Eliot, whom he had asked to supply the libretto, told him that Tippett's own outline was sufficient to the task. The narrative of the cantata is about a Polish boy living with relatives in France after his parents had been killed by the Nazis who himself then shot and killed a German official in 1938. He was imprisoned by the French government but that apparently wasn't punishment enough; in reprisal for the act the Nazis carried out the horrific 'Kristallnacht.' Tippett's text is not a simple condemnation of the Nazis, but rather it explores the complex psychological issues on both sides of the question of whether the boy's act was justified. Clearly, though, his sympathies are with the boy and the others who were persecuted by the Nazis. Indeed, one aspect of this great cantata is the use of spirituals to convey the feelings of the persecuted Jews.
There have been a number of fine recordings of this work, foremost of which is that of Colin Davis. (I've never heard the earliest recording, with John Pritchard conducting and the singing of the great Elsie Morison and Richard Lewis.) The composer, though, obviously had something personal to say in his performance of the work. This recording, made in 1991 when Tippett was 86 and previously released on Collins Classics, has an autumnal quality that may partly arise from Tippett's age, but which also emerges from the musical and textual materials themselves. Tempi are rather slow and one familiar with the brilliant Davis recording might, initially, become a bit impatient. But the payoff is that the piece builds and builds to the shattering end, the chorus singing 'Deep River.' Tippett, it turns out, knew what he was doing here. This is not simply an old man's performance but one of great power by the man who created the work fifty years earlier. It is to Naxos's credit that they licensed this performance from Collins, now defunct as a record label, and make it available at superbudget price.
The City of Birmingham Symphony and Chorus perform admirably and the solos, sung by Faye Robinson, Sarah Walker, John Garrison, and John Cheek are all one could ask. This is a wonderful recording well worth its modest asking price.
A profound reading by the composer, lackig only the best sol
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 03/10/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"All three of the standard recordings of Tippett's early masterpiece, A Child of Our Time, are excellent performances. The earliest, conducted by John Pritchard (1958), would have been considered superlative on its own, and it still is despite somewhat cramped, dated sound and soloists who are less than stellar, particularly in their diction. The Colin Davis from 1975 became an instant first choice given the unequalled casting of Jessye Norman and Janet Baker in the female parts. But this budget release of the composer's own 1991 performance is uniquely deep and moving. Tippett was an excellent conductor of his own music, and as with Britten, he brings a composer's understanding that no one else can duplicate.
It's not a perfect recording. The sonics are a too bright, and the chorus is placed so far back as to be unintelligible most of the time. The four soloists sing with great feeling, although the fast beat in the soprano's voice robs her diction. The tenor and bass are the best singers and the easiest to understand. As to timing, Pritchrd seems quick at 64 min. and the composer just right at 69 min.--he gives himself room to make any number of musical points in the service of his heartfelt pacifism and humanity. In sum, this is a great recording at a price anyone can afford."
The Next Best Thing To A Live Performance
Timothy Kearney | Hull, MA United States | 11/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My first exposure to A CHILD OF OUR TIME was a radio broadcast of the work in the 1970's. Our local classical station would air recorded concerts of some of the country's best known orchestras, and one night A CHILD OF OUR TIME was the featured work. I found it interesting, but I wasn't overly moved. I later heard a college choir and orchestra perform the work, and I found it somewhat tedious, but the acoustics in the hall were not the greatest, so the performance may have been top notch but no one knew it. Not one to give up easily on music of any kind, I decided to purchase this recording to be come familiar with the work before attending a performance of the work by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Sir Colin Davis a few weeks ago. I am not sure if it is due to maturing of my musical tastes, more familiarity with the work, ort the excitement of the performance itself, but I have rarely been so moved at a musical performance as I was at the performance and I'm sure this recording played a part in my appreciation of this work.
I do believe this is one of those works that has to be heard live in order to be truly appreciated. This is something that can be true of many great classical works, but this work requires fine orchestral playing that does not over power the vocalists, four soloists who are equally at home singing traditional choral music and African American spirituals, and a chorus that is vocally versatile as well. It's difficult to find all three, but I found it at the BSO, and when I got home that evening and put this disc in the stereo, I found the next best thing to a live performance. Nothing about this disc is static and Sir Michael Tippet's musical treatise of good and evil comes alive. My favorite portions are the spirituals. The soloists are magnificent and we see this especially in these portions of the work. The City of Birmingham Orchestra and Chorus are exquisite, and we can be assured that this is an authentic rendering of the work since it is under the direction of the composer.
People who collect historic recordings will find a gem in this recording, but so too will people who want to hear a wonderful recording of a powerful work.