Richard Hickox / Howard Shelley / Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Tippett: Symphony No. 1; Piano Concerto

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Tippett had five style periods, but not all of Tippett's periods are equal. For some, his lyrical earliest works culminating in his oratorio A Child of Our Time in 1941 were his best. For others, his experimental middle works culminating in the opera New Year in 1988 are his best. For a few, his luminous final works culminating in the tone poem The Rose Lake in 1993, were the best. But for many if not most listeners, the works of his first maturity starting with the First Symphony of 1945 and culminating in the opera The Midsummer Marriage in 1952 were his best. In these 1994 Chandos recordings, conductor Richard Hickox and pianist Howard Shelley with the Bournemouth Symphony present compelling evidence that Tippett was at his best when the glorious lyricism of his youth coupled with a stronger grasp of the structures, when the experimentalism of his middle works was tempered with a tighter grip of the imagination, when the luminosity of his final works was underlined by the edginess of the counterpoint. Hickox and the Bournemouth are vigorous and muscular in the outer Allegros of the Symphony, pensive and profound in its Adagio, and dazzling and evanescent in the Presto. In the piano concerto that directly followed the completion of The Midsummer Marriage, Shelley joins Hickox and the Bournemouth for a performance of air, light, and poetry. The closing Vivace, with its ardent strings, its ebullient winds, and especially its shimmering duet for celesta and piano, is Tippett at his best. Chandos' 1994 digital sound was as big and bold as its earlier digital sound, but it was starting to warm up and blossom.

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