Sir Andrew Davis directs unforgettable Tippett at the Barbican
In a showcase of Michael Tippett’s work, this performance of his A Child of Our Time and Concerto for Double String Orchestra is an absolute success. Tippett’s work is increasingly underrated: although his name is still known, his oeuvre is performed less and less as time passes. But conductor Sir Andrew Davis demonstrates that this music holds just as much sway now as when it was first released.
The concert opens with the concerto, a creation perhaps best described as a synthesis between baroque concerto-grosso and blues, in that it features a contrapuntal richness rarely found nowadays and thematic elements that traverse different orchestral groups, as opposed to having a solo instrument as the central focus. Davis’s conducting brings the piece to life, especially in the Adagio cantabile, which portrays a yearning that lasts from start to finish.
But the star of the evening is A Child of Our Time, Tippett’s powerful oratorio. Written in response to the horrors of the Kristallnacht, it captures a sense of dread about humanity’s progress as it anticipates the second world war. One of its most prominent features is its striking incorporation of African-American spirituals. Seeing them as some of the most powerful expressions of human tragedy, the composer honours them by making them the central pillars that hold the piece together.
Davis’s direction is stellar, as expected: the tempo is just about right, and he always seems acute and precise, applying his vision in a way that makes Tippett’s compositions shine when played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. They are supported by Pumeza Matshikiza’s powerful soprano, Dame Sarah Connolly’s passionate mezzo-soprano, Joshua Stewart’s intimate tenor, and Ashley Riches’s solid bass.
The overall effect is an unforgettable and engaging evening. A Child of Our Time, while a reaction to a particular historical event, nevertheless speaks to suffering in all times. It highlights the many crises we face today. Though much of its music is rather dark in nature, it nevertheless contains a message of hope for a brighter future – and this is where Tippett’s work shines particularly brightly.
For further information and future events visit the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s website here.