The Sixteen, bright stars of the Baroque, have plenty to say on 20th-century repertoire (witness their excellent Britten series on Collins). Underpin them with the BBC Philharmonic and it might seem a magic formula. Ives’s unearthly The Unanswered Question holds few problems for instrumental players weaned on Maxwell Davies – no more than do the brilliant wind roulades of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Deft BBC teamwork and a chamber articulation to woodwind and brass helps this Koussevitzky-commissioned masterpiece to shed its often hammy ‘big band’ sound, creeping closer to the subtle, leaner sonorities of his later choral works. It gains. The singing varies. Too many dynamic shifts sound prosaic or under-prepared; fortes are forced, with muddy results. The vocal blend (happier in lower voices) can seem haphazard and colours the Tippett, where the men’s roars – contrast the lovely, sensual soprano solo – seem crude. Get this disc, instead, for the rare, late Poulenc – his New York-commissioned Sept répons. It is a curiously under-recorded devotional work, bleeding with pathos yet pumping energy, its exoticism enhanced by slightly breathy, tender solos, and scintillatingly sung with just those crucial missing qualities of awe and freshness. A million times more refined than what goes before.
The young Tippett – magpie and maverick – sought maximum intensity of feeling while shunning what he felt to be the sentimental fervour of Elgar, Bax and Walton. Equally abhorrent were the pastoral pieties of Vaughan Williams. Tippett took his stand with Blake and Yeats rather than Bunyan, and a Blake whose “bow of burning gold” required something altogether less complacent than Parry’s well upholstered jingoism.
On Songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Osborne unleashes her sizable gifts as a vocalist and interpreter upon The Bard's celebrated canon. With performances honed by the time Osborne spent polishing them during 'Joan Osborne Sings The Songs Of Bob Dylan' two critically acclaimed two-week residencies she performed at New York City's Café Carlyle in March 2016 and 2017, the seven-time Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum-selling singer and songwriter, whom The New York Times has called 'a fiercely intelligent, no-nonsense singer,' winds her supple, soulful voice around Dylan's poetic, evocative lyrics, etching gleaming new facets in them along the way.
Martha Argerich’s Ravel G major was for so long a reference recording that it’s easy to forget how idiosyncratic it actually is. I wouldn’t actually blame anyone who found it too garish in its colouring, with its volatility giving diminishing returns and its rubato too predictably appassionato for a sensibility as dapper as Ravel’s. Such a person might well find exactly what they want in Steven Osborne’s account, which is masterful in its own way but essentially self-effacing.
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Anyone who loves twentieth century music, who loves English music, or who just plain loves music will love this collection of the music of Michael Tippett. Culled from previously issued but long out-of-print Philips, London, Argo, and l'Oiseau-Lyre LPs, most of these recordings were world premieres made in close consultation with the composer and in the hands of conductors Colin Davis, Georg Solti, Neville Marriner, pianist Paul Crossley, and the Lindsay String Quartet, they receive what can fairly be described as definitive performances. From the ecstatic lyricism of the Suite for Double String Orchestra of 1939 through the luminous vitality of the First Symphony of 1945, the radiant sensuality of the Ritual Dances of 1955, the blues-based modernism of the Third Symphony of 1972, to the glistening transcendentalism of the Fourth Symphony of 1977, Tippett's unique fusion of line, drive, color, and form is performed throughout with passionate dedication and absolute faith in the music's greatness.