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Friday, March 18, 2005
A Child of our Time
Faye Robinson (soprano), Sarah Walker (mezzo), Jon Garrison (tenor), John Cheek (bass)City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Michael Tippett (conductor)

This is the centenary year of Sir Michael Tippett's birth and Naxos has brought back to the catalogue this performance of his most famous work, conducted by Tippett himself some 20 years ago when he was a still sprightly 85. There are those who might disagree but it is probably accurate to say that Tippett’s reputation is based almost entirely on this single work, written as an act of pacifism at the beginning of World War II and first performed when was thirty-nine. Nothing he created before or after had anything like the staying power of this major 20th century oratorio which integrated five popular spirituals into its otherwise fairly conventional structure. The recording is flawless and those who listen especially carefully will find that the composer frequently took liberties with his original score.

Symphonies Nos. 1 – 3 – Alan Rawsthorne
Charlotte Ellett (soprano)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones (conductor)

This is also the centenary year of Alan Rawsthorne, a much more productive and talented composer than Tippett, but one who is almost completely forgotten outside a dedicated group of devotees called the Friends of Alan Rawsthorne and the Rawsthorne Trust, which provided some financial support for the re-release of these recordings. The three symphonies date from 1950, 1959 and 1964 and are characteristic of the composer’s mature style. Sure, there are echoes of Vaughn Williams and Malcom Arnold but Rawsthorne had his own distinct voice. Though far from being a modernist, Rawsthorne’s work is demanding and definitely not easy. These are vivid performances and demonstrate, once more, that Rawthorne “coulda been a contender.” My only complaint about this recording is that it is too much to digest in one sitting.

British Piano Concertos - Ferguson, Rowley, Gerhard, Darnton
Peter Donohoe (piano/conductor)
Northern Sinfonia

Peter Donohue is one of those successful artists who believes in giving something back to his calling which is why he created the British Piano Concerto Foundation to record little known works he felt have been under-recognized. The four 20th century concertos for piano and strings on this release fall into that category, although none would be out of place as the centerpiece of an evening at the symphony if programmers could be persuaded to give the Greig and Rachmaninovs and Schumann a rest. Those by Howard Ferguson, Christian Darnton and Alec Rowley are characteristically English romantic and make for very enjoyable, if easy, listening. The concerto by Spanish-born composer Roberto Gerhard is somewhat more demanding, distinctly modern in mood, with a very beautiful slow movement, written as a threnody for victims of the Spanish Civil War.

Donohoe gives them all the Rocky 3, big piano treatment and the Northern Sinfonia sounds superb. If there are no flat-out overlooked masterpieces on this generous sampling of British piano concertos, there is more than the usual morsel of pleasure. The first release in this series was a splendid version of the piano concerto of Arthur Bliss. A bargain at full freight and a steal at the Naxos budget price.


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