Tippett: A Child of Our Time

Indra Thomas, Mihoko Fujimura, Matthew Rose, LSO/Colin Davis (LSO Live LSO0670)

4 July 2008 4 stars

A Child of Our TimeFew works in the history of music can be as personal as Sir Michael Tippett's A Child of Our Time. The composer always specialised in music with a message, though in some of the operas the message be a little obscure, but here he was responding specifically to the atrocities faced by the Jews on 'Crystal Night', 9 November 1938. Initially Tippett asked T S Eliot to write the libretto for A Child of Our Time, which was to become 'the composer's first major public statement as an artist' as Meirion Bowen has it in the liner notes for LSO Live's new recording. But when Tippett presented Eliot with an outline for the piece, based on the structure of a baroque oratorio complete with narration, arias and ensembles, Eliot advised him to write his own libretto, something he would do for the rest of his life. The result would be one of the most moving depictions of the holocaust ever written (Tippett, of course, went to prison in 1943 for his pacifism).

Sir Colin Davis has long been one of the composer's greatest advocates, both in the opera house and the concert hall, and here his reading of A Child of Our Time is entirely persuasive. In particular, the lucidity Davis brings to complex music by a very challenging composer should not be underestimated. He brings a dignity to the piece as befits its Bachian antecedents, while the darkness and violence of the orchestral writing, here rendered intense by the LSO at their blazing best, is always a high priority. Sir Colin's finest work often involves large forces and the way he inspires soloists, chorus and orchestra to give of their all comes across magnificently on the recording.

Of the four soloists, Matthew Rose's bass comes across the best. A former Young Artist of The Royal Opera, Rose's noble rendition of the all-important narrative verses is poised and a cornerstone of the performance.

Steve Davislim's tenor is not quite the same standard of instrument, but Mihoko Fujimura's alto comes across well, especially in her tortured opening stanza. Indra Thomas was surely born to sing this piece: her heartfelt delivery of the Negro Spiritual which closes Part II registers well in particular.

This is a work which relies heavily on choral forces, and the London Symphony Chorus seems to savour every minute of the piece. From the very start, when they sing 'The world turns on its dark side. / It is winter', you really believe every word. The chorus' diction is exemplary, and the strength of the individual sections allows for all kinds of inner shadings of dynamics and tone colours.

Occasionally one can hear Sir Colin singing along with the performers, and inevitably the recording as a whole doesn't have quite the accuracy or sharpness of a studio recording, but I have no serious reservations about this very good release of a work which remains sadly relevant over half a century after its premiere.

By Dominic McHugh