Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Disc: The Midsummer Marriage
Composer: Michael Tippett
Conductor: Sir John Pritchard
Label: Gala
Catalogue Number:
Released: 2000, 2005 (CD: ADD)

The Midsummer Marriage is redolent of Michael Tippett at his most enticingly lyrical and invitingly opaque. That said, if you are looking to explore the riches or eccentricities of his marvellous first opera in detail, I wouldn't start here. The sound quality requires some aural excavation. But once you have absorbed Colin Davis's definitive Royal Opera House account (Lyrita SRCD2217, 1995), this radio broadcast of the first performance at Covent Garden - conducted by John Pritchard and produced by Christopher West on 27 January 1955 - is well worth the investment. And for fully-fledged Tippett aficionados, it's obviously essential.
There's vigour, feeling and commitment in Pritchard's pioneering rendition. What it occasionally lacks in polish it makes up for in freshness - something the age of the recording cannot wither. Mezzo soprano Oralia Dominguez's Sosostris is one of the standout performances for me, very much capturing the magical theatricality which Tippett intended. (With a repertoire stretching out from Monteverdi to Wagner, she also worked with Pritchard on a fine Coronazione di Poppaea, recorded by EMI.)

The voice-overs for the radio audience only really become obtrusive during the Ritual Dances - with the first also frustratingly orphaned on disc one. In fact this is probably the most disappointing aspect of the performance, in that the intricacy of Tippett's contrapuntal imagination is dulled and subdued at some vital moments of orchestral intensity.
But such shortcomings should not be allowed to detract from the inherent virtues of this recording. Not only does it capture an important moment in twentieth century musical history, it also shows that Tippett's music - sometimes portrayed as dryly intellectual or obscure - is, at its heart, expressive and warm, inviting us not just to view the world but to relish it in all its glory and pain.

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