Sir Malcolm Sargent was adamant in his refusal to conduct the premiere of Michael Tippett's Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli in 1953, declaring "My one interest is in removing all this intellectualism from English music!" To judge by certain recent journalistic ripostes to the composer's centenary, which fell on 2 January, that drear old strain of British philistinism is with us yet.
The Corelli Fantasia has gone on to become a much-loved staple of the string orchestra repertoire, played all over the world.
That has always been the way with Tippett. He was approaching 40 before he received much recognition, and tended to be dismissed as a muddled amateur for years after that. Yet in this opening concert of the Wigmore Hall's celebratory survey of the songs, chamber and instrumental works, two of the early string quartets came up fizzing with energy, while his two most substantial works for voice and piano proved more moving than ever.
There was almost too much energy in the outer movements of the String Quartet No 1 in A, Tippett's earliest published score, from 1934. When The Lindsays get this passionate, tone and intonation can suffer, and in the opening movement, which Tippett added in 1943, it was sometimes difficult to hear the harmonies.
Yet Peter Cropper led his three colleagues through the central slow movement, with its soaring arcs of melody and Beethovenian warmth with the most sensitised tenderness. And so it was in Tippett's five-movement String Quartet No 3 (1945-6). While the double fugue third movement was rough, the slow, polymetric serenade before it, and the strange, static, colour study after, were radiantly done.
In between, the tenor Mark Padmore sang Boyhood's End (1943) - Tippett's unlikely yoking of Purcellian solo-cantata form to prose by the naturalist W H Hudson - with bright tone and immaculate diction.
But the real climax was the song cycle The Heart's Assurance (1950-1) to poems of the fallen Second World War poets Alun Lewis and Sidney Keyes, composed in memory of Tippett's soulmate, the folklorist Francesca Allinson.
Britten, who commissioned it, wished the piano part less complicated, and much of this performance depended on Andrew West's cogent command of its torrents of notes. Here, Padmore came into his own, encompassing the huge melodic spans with mesmeric eloquence. The cumulative effect of the last long, oracular Keyes setting "Remember your lovers" was shattering.Reuse content