CBSO100: A refreshed masterpiece rolls in a new century

CBSO100: A refreshed masterpiece rolls in a new century


norman lebrecht

September 27, 2019

This is the first of our year-round reviews of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s centenary year.

Michael Tippett, A Child of Our Time:     CBSO at Symphony Hall

by Christopher Morley

Such is the power of Tippett’s settings of Afro-American spirituals in his oratorio a Child of Our Time that they are still with me as I write, even after negotiating the roadwork horrors of Broad Street compounded by a water-main burst in the  excavations.

Tippett’s idea was to bring universality into his composition, much as Bach used Lutheran chorales in his Passions, and it certainly works. What didn’t quite work was Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla’s idealism in involving us, the audience, into their delivery. It all seemed a trifle half-hearted.

Never mind. Hers was a wonderfully engaging account of this masterpiece, launching two years of celebrations for the CBSO’s centenary in 2020. There will have been players tonight who recorded the work under the composer’s frail baton in 1991, soon after the opening of this magnificent hall, but here now was strength and confidence.

Strings were rich and lamenting at the opening, busy and vital elsewhere. Woodwinds were almost madrigalian, such as in the austere little trio for two flutes and cor anglais near the end, brass and percussion were sonorous, august.

And Julian Wilkins’ CBSO Chorus projected magnificently, whether lightly ethereal or outraged, despairing. The solo quartet delivered efficiently, but outstanding was the bass of Brindley Sherratt, clear, dignified, and an amalgam of the Evangelist and Christus roles in Bach’s St Matthew Passion.

Preceding this masterpiece from the Second World War was another one, Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, a work the CBSO has so much under its skin that it was able to accommodate Mirga’s special take on this wonderful piece.

Her Lacrymosa began thuddingly, leadenly, screwing up the tension until a sudden paroxysm of energy. The Dies Irae was fleet and flickering, hell-fire lashed out by trumpets and horns, and the solace of Requiem aeternam was genuinely felt and conveyed.

There will be plenty of other masterpieces, many of them British, in these celebrations. This will be a jamboree to remember.

Christopher Morley, conductor and pianist, lectured at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire for 22 years; he has been reviewing concerts and operas since 1969.


All CBSO reviews will be linked here.


  • Bostin'Symph says:

    A great start to the CBSO’s centenary season. The concert was recorded for broadcast on Radio 3 next Tuesday at 7:30pm.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It is good to see Michael Tippett not being completely forgotten as feared. Unlike Elgar & Britten, his appeal may only be confined to the English speaking world though. Even Vaughan Williams is hardly played anywhere else.

    • Esther Cavett says:

      ==Tippett…his appeal may only be confined to the English speaking world

      Yes, apart from maybe the Triple Concerto and the Midsummer Marriage dances, that might be true.
      I’m sure the Knot Garden and Mask of Time don’t travel well.

      A large part of M.T. performances was having the ebullient old guy in the audience. Always a draw. But now he’s no more…..

    • Brummie says:

      Yet this is a website run by someone who has run a Tippett smear campaign for years, author of an article ‘Tippett – a composer to forget’. The performance was full of mistakes and problems that this reviewer somehow didn’t hear.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    ==The performance was full of mistakes

    OK, you’re on. If I can bear to sit through this grandiose piece, I’ll sit with score in hand and listen for the bloopers.
    Can you maybe give a clue where they are ?

  • RW2013 says:

    The best information was “the roadwork horrors of Broad Street compounded by a water-main burst in the excavations.”
    The rest meaningless retiree rambling.

  • GCMP says:

    Who were the other soloists? A review should record their names for posterity.

  • john Borstlap says:

    What worries me a bit is the logo of the CBSO which looks like a violent splash of blood. Surely this is to underline the orchestra’s commitment to modern music?

  • Mr Tumble says:

    Are the reviews going to get better than this? I hope so. I heard that one of the vocal soloists (none of whom are named) got lost and derailed the performance – but at least we know about the traffic disruption on Broad Street, so, you know. thanks for that.

  • Mark Hildrew says:

    ==Are the reviews going to get better than this?

    This wasn’t an auspicious start