CLASSICAL MUSIC: Tippett Concert: RSNO / Armstrong; Usher Hall
Edinburgh Festival: International
Thursday 14 August 1997
All was changed utterly, though, in the Concerto for Orchestra of 1963; the edginess and energy, even brutality, of King Priam marking a new phase in Tippett's stylistic development. With the orchestra divided up into discrete groupings on the stage, the gradual coalescence of the various strands of material into a grand collage was beautifully managed. What an original piece for a British composer to have written at the time, and how wildly avant-garde it must have sounded in Edinburgh 34 years ago. The brooding Lento reminded us that, for all its new hard-edged sound, Tippett's characteristic long melodic line was still at the heart of this music. The Concerto was dedicated to Britten, and amid the trumpet and percussion's echoes of distant wars in the finale, a haunting memory (is it a quote?) of the first "Sea Interlude" from Peter Grimes gave us momentary pause before the rondo impelled things to their abrupt ending.
The main work of the evening, A Child of Our Time - surely now a 20th- century classic - raised perennial questions: for the performers, of how to bring it all to life again, and for the audience, of how to hear the familiar afresh. It is a curious piece, with formal and stylistic influences ranging from Bach and Handel through medieval polyphony, to Stravinsky, Bartok and jazz. And then there's that libretto, with its mixture of the specific and immediate with the generalised and portentous.
The Festival Chorus managed some of Tippett's more tortuous syncopated fugues with dexterity and were thrilling in "Steal Away". A strong quartet of soloists delivered their sometimes odd words and angular lines with conviction - Ian Bostridge, by virtue of his age and his sensitive singing, was a particularly convincing "child". Some fast tempi made for a dangerous feel in places; the fact that modern performers can carry off these complexities at speed does not mean that they must.
There is something about A Child of Our Time - despite the problems of a musical language that is not yet fully integrated, a lack of dramatic momentum, and those slightly obscure, even cranky words - that creates a profound emotional effect. With the final glorious peroration - "I would know my shadow and my light", with its soaring solo voices leading into that most touching of spirituals, "Deep River" - one could feel a release of emotion in both performers and audience, reminding one that, for all its flaws, this is generous-spirited and great music. Laurence Hughes
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling