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Martyn Brabbins ‘aims for clarity’ in his approach to Tippett’s Symphonies Nos 1 & 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Tippett
Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
Hyperion CDA 68203

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The torch carried for Tippett by the late Colin Davis and Richard Hickox seems to have passed to Martyn Brabbins. These readings have the intentness of conviction, which the still underrated Symphony No. 1 in particular richly deserves. Completed in 1945 and combining the springy counterpoint of Tippett’s early style with – in its grinding passacaglia slow movement – something of the darkness of the war he had just come though, this sounds like a celebration of a hard-earned maturity. Symphony No. 2, composed 12 years later in the wake of The Midsummer Marriage retains some of that opera’s magical lyricism, but cross-cut with a more Stravinskian edginess, pre-echoing the disjunct modernism of his next opera King Priam.

In approaching Tippett’s teeming textures, Brabbins and his producer Andrew Keener appear to have aimed for clarity. A relatively modest string body allows wind detail to come through; and a fairly dry studio acoustic is preferred, particularly in Symphony No. 2 in which the close recording of Tippett’s constantly shifting orchestral sub-groupings sound like a giant chamber ensemble: those who hanker for a more spacious concert hall sound may prefer Hickox’s fine Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra accounts on Chandos. Brabbins also tends to moderate tempos – perhaps a little too slow to quite sustain the bleak tension of the passacaglia in No. 1, though compensating for the oddly disparate form of the finale of No. 2 with an extra weight.

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Bayan Northcott