CBSO100: A refreshed masterpiece rolls in a new centurymain
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.