THE BBC SSO’s journey through the symphonies of Michael Tippett, under Martyn Brabbins’ judicious direction, has been fascinating to behold. It was the turn of Symphony No 4 on Thursday, a work that few will have heard live, and which proved, in a performance full of self-belief, to be both compelling and puzzling at the same time.
City Halls, Glasgow, ****
As a composer for whom “metaphor” was the prevailing embryo of his creative process – I recall him talking extensively about this at a talk in Glasgow in the 1980s – the preoccupation here is the concept of life itself, from birth to death. Heavy breathing from an electronic tape (specially produced for this occasion by Ian Dearden of Sound Intermedia) frames the continuous half-hour work symbolising life’s inevitable cycle.
The score is wonderfully intense, Tippett’s contrapuntal wizardry capturing pungency and sparkle in equal measure. Brabbins’ fused these together in a bejewelled tapestry, eliciting an electrifying clarity and charisma from the SSO. While we revelled in such kaleidoscopic delights, there was the challenge, too, of making total sense of the work. I’m not convinced one hearing was enough, and I certainly want to hear it again when the SSO’s CD is released.
The concert opened with a breathtakingly beautiful account of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Then Dutch pianists, brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen, looking every bit like classical music’s Jedward, brought flare and instinctive collusion to Mozart’s Concerto in E flat for Two Pianos, followed by a Bizet encore that brought the house down.