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the primary new recording of Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage for over 50 years brings out all of the work’s intoxicating brilliance


Michael Tippett: The Midsummer Marriage; Robert Murray, Rachel Nicholls, Toby Spence, Jennifer France, Ashley Riches, Susan Bickley, Joshua Bloom, London Philharmonic Choir, ENO Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner; LPO

Michael Tippett: The Midsummer Marriage; Robert Murray, Rachel Nicholls, Toby Spence, Jennifer France, Ashley Riches, Susan Bickley, Joshua Bloom, London Philharmonic Choir, ENO Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner; LPO
Reviewed 10/10/2022 (★★★★★)

Gardner’s 2021 live performance efficiency transferred to disc in a vibrant and vividly realised efficiency that locations the orchestra on the ecstatic centre of Tippett’s opera 

The post-war interval was a exceptional one for British opera, there was Britten’s Peter Grimes, Walton’s Troilus and Cressida, and Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage together with many different that aren’t so properly remembered, together with Bliss’ The Olympians with a libretto by J.B. Priestly that in some methods intersects with Tippet’s opera. 

Premiered almost ten years after Peter Grimes, Tippett’s first opera has by no means fairly achieved the recognition or ubiquity of Britten’s. It’s a very totally different work, arguably extra complicated each when it comes to its writing and its material, however it has its adherents and has slowly gained floor.

The work’s premiere is a factor of legend however listening to the reside recording of the 1955 efficiency with Richard Lewis and Joan Sutherland, performed by John Pritchard, there may be loads to take pleasure in. The work needed to wait till 1970 for its first studio recording, with Alberto Remedios and Joan Carlyle, performed by Colin Davis; a recording that arose out of Covent Backyard’s new 1968 manufacturing of the opera. Since then, there was little in the way in which of full recording and there doesn’t appear to be DVD at present accessible.

A brand new reside recording of Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage from Edward Gardner and the London Philharmonic Orchestra on the orchestra’s personal label appears set to supply a brand new benchmark with Robert Murray and Rachel Nicholls as Mark and Jennifer, Ashley Riches as King Fisher, Jennifer France and Toby Spence as Bella and Jack, Claire Barnett-Jones as Madame Sosostris, and Susan Bickley and Joshua Bloom because the Ancients with the mixed forces of the London Philharmonic Choir and ENO Refrain.

In his illuminating booklet article, Oliver Soden talks about how the opera owed its genesis not a lot to post-war Britain as to the fast pre-war years, notably the symbolic verse dramas of T.S. Eliot (whom Tippett requested to write down the libretto of A Little one of our Time) and Christopher Fry, which meant that the opera, when lastly produced in 1955, appeared considerably out of time. It’s certainly at odds with the naturalism of Britten’s output of the interval.

Famously, Tippett stated his preliminary thought was from The Magic Flute with a ‘Royal couple’ contrasted with a extra plebeian one, and that is preserved within the completed opera. However there are different parts too, the way in which the lead couple disappear for a protracted stretch of time and the usage of orchestral interludes and integral dance sequences level us additionally to French grand opera (absolutely not a preferred mannequin within the post-war interval). While Mark and Jennifer are the main target of Act One, they’re absent from Act Two and solely reappear in direction of the tip of Act Three, in consequence that is very a lot an ensemble piece, and Tippett’s writing locations an necessary emphasis on the orchestra. And apparently the work sticks to the classical unities, the time span is a single day and the situation mounted.

Edward Gardner locations the London Philharmonic Orchestra high useless centre on this recording, which captures beautifully the crisply multi-layered textures of Tippett’s writing. That is troublesome music, each technically and when it comes to bringing it off dramatically, and Gardner hardly ever places a baton mistaken. There’s a fantastic brilliance right here to Tippett’s ecstatic, glittering textures, vivid and engrossing, and it’s terrific to listen to such effective performances of the dances within the right context within the drama.

Mark and Jennifer require a pair of singers who can mix weight and adaptability, one thing of a problem in casting (Sutherland’s presence within the premiere is much less of a shock than one would possibly factor, she had a surprisingly robust voice; after the well-known 1959 Lucia di Lammermoor, Tullio Serafin prompt Woman Macbeth as her subsequent position). Robert Murray and Rachel Nicholls are sensible in the way in which they each embody the roles’ challenges. They’re maybe barely behind within the combine and should push considerably at moments, having the massive forces of refrain and orchestra on stage behind them not a assist. Murray is solely very good in the way in which he offers a vivid vibrancy to Mark’s ecstatic vocal strains, and Nicholls equally belies her dramatic repertoire and sounds lithe and versatile. The 2 create some very good moments because the music of Act One will get progressively extra ecstatic.

Jennifer France and Toby Spence make a pleasant second couple. France doesn’t fairly convey off the ‘Oh, he is a honey’ second, the way in which Elizabeth Harwood did for Davis, however then Harwood had the good thing about a studio recording. Recorded reside, France and Spence make a all the way down to earth delight, a effective distinction to Nicholls and Murray. Ashley Riches is a stunning dead-pan King Fisher, the heat in his voice combatting the truth that the character is such a pratt, however Riches additionally has the requisite darkish authority. That is man who expects to be obeyed.

Susan Bickley and Joshua Bloom are properly oracular and trenchant because the Ancients, mysterious and considerably dismissive of those foolish people. Fearsome but considerably comedian too. And in addition suitably oracular is Claire Barnett-Jones because the splendidly mysterious Sosostris.

The choruses are in terrific kind, vivid and vibrant within the projection of character, lithe of line and alert to the complexity of the writing. As I’ve stated, the orchestra is high useless centre. The recording can be properly value listening to for its efficiency alone. However right here now we have a wonderfully assembled package deal, a vividly theatrical event captured finely. There are occasions while you merely neglect that this can be a reside recording. If it had been achieved within the studio, undoubtedly stability and different particulars can be considerably totally different, however as an alternative Gardner and his forces give us a effective theatrical sweep but, Gardner has an excellent eye for element too and the whole lot is crisply as an alternative.

I’ll nonetheless return (sometimes) to the 1955 reside recording and, after all, to that first studio recording however this new one, in very good trendy sound, is on the high of the library cabinets. All we’d like now’s a sympathetic stage manufacturing.

Michael Tippett (1905-1998) – The Midsummer Marriage (1955) [2:38:23]
Robert Murray – Mark
Rachel Nicholls – Jennifer
Ashley Riches – King Fisher
Jennifer France – Bella
Toby Spence – Jack
Claire Barnett-Jones – Sosostris
Susan Bickley – She-Historic
Joshua Bloom – He-Historic
London Philharmonic Choir
English Nationwide Opera Refrain
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Edward Gardner (conductor)
Recorded reside by BBC Radio 3 on the Southbank Centre’s Royal Competition Corridor on 25 September 2021
LONDON PHILHARMONIC LPO124 3CDs [63:12, 34:32, 60:39]

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