"Tippett's uniquely life-enhancing vision has been central to the musical life of post-war Britain; for a generation he has been the doyen of British musicians and is now universally regarded as one of the world's greatest living composers. Yet despite distinction and seniority he has never assumed the mantle of 'Grand Old Man' - his remarkably youthful, energetic presence and attitudes belie his 85 years; but most significantly of all, Tippett remains compositionally at the height of his powers, producing music of glowing vigour and richness."
1990 Geraint Lewis
Tippett in his Ritual Dances certainly achieved his aim of renewing ‘our sense of the comely and the beautiful’. The opera from which the Dances came, The Midsummer Marriage, was written between 1946 and 1952. A reissue of Philips’ recording is on a 2 CD Lyrita set. The Dances are drawn from the opera, The Midsummer Marriage. Tippett sounds not at all pastoral in this music nor particularly British at least not in any hackneyed sense. The composer conducts in a seething and glowingly mystical performance. The titles of the dances and intervening transformations follow the structure of the four seasons later to be echoed on a smaller scale in The Crown of the Year. An additional feature is the mixing in of earth, water, air and fire. Tippett’s forebears in this music are Bridge and Janácek. Alfreda Hodgson, in suitably plush voice, majestically projects Sosostris’s Aria with great impact amid the music’s complexity of utterance. The Praeludium for brass, bells and percussion is clamorous and celebratory. It was premiered by the BBCSO with Antal Dorati. The Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles was one of very few commissions Tippett accepted while Midsummer Marriage was fermenting. It is the closest he came to a conventional-sounding British suite in the Moeran manner. It has some stamping folk dances and various rustic and regional references especially linking with his parental home county of Cornwall. It also uses material from his discarded folk-song opera Robin Hood - now surely that could be recorded?. I am sure that there would be considerable interest in early Tippett in much the same way that there is a virtual industry - and very welcome too - in reviving the masses of music Britten wrote during the 1930s and early 1940s. The composer-conducted performance of the Suite has all the vigour you would want but the textures are very complex and this sometimes leads to a density of incident which clogs proceedings.
The major liner essay is by Geraint Lewis and the sung words are printed in full.
The disc has a slightly miscellaneous feeling to it; not because of the performances but because of the mix of repertoire. However if these pieces attract you then there is no need to hold back from purchasing what in 1991 was the first fruit of Nimbus’s joint project with the 84 year old composer.