Music review: BBC SSO & Martyn Brabbins

Martyn Brabbins and the BBC SSO ended their enlightening survey of Michael Tippett's symphonies with one that had not seen the light of day since it was written in the 1930s. Tippett created what was effectively his first symphony in 1932 (the one we call the First Symphony was composed 13 years later), revising it twice before withdrawing it as work to be neither published nor, consequently, further performed. Thursday's performance was billed as the first performance since 1935, and the world premiere of the 1938 revision.
Martyn BrabbinsMartyn Brabbins
Martyn Brabbins

BBC SSO & Martyn Brabbins, City Halls, Glasgow ****

One can see easily why Tippett shelved the experimental Symphony in B flat. The first two movements bear no resemblance to his later, more familiar style; more a searching exercise in assimilating the dominating influence of Sibelius with flashes of Delian harmonies in the opening bars and, once in a while, modal inflexions reminiscent of Vaughan Williams.

Ideas come and go like sporadic gusts of wind, though this performance – meatily executed by the SSO under Brabbins – made the most of its arching climaxes and restful moments of pastoral quiescence.

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The final movement marked a turning point, where all of a sudden Tippett’s own voice – those beguiling false relation harmonies so characteristic of his later works – takes flight, and a signature assurance sets in.

After a double dose of luminescent Mozart – the Horn Concerto No 4 and short Rondo featuring SSO principal horn Alberto Menéndez Escribano – Stravinsky’s Petrushka emerged as the highlight of the evening: stirring, pungent, bursting with blistering colour and lightning clarity.