WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Byzantium
PERFORMER: Faye Robinson (soprano); Chicago SO/Georg Solti
CATALOGUE NO: 433 668-2 DDD
Though there may be a certain marketing logic in bringing together the two Tippett works commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, most admirers of the composer will already have this version of the Fourth Symphony, recorded in 1981, as part of Decca’s set of the complete symphonies. While several of Tippett’s most important works still await an up-to-date recording, they have been forced into duplication for the sake of Byzantium, which appears on disc exactly two years after the first performances in Chicago and New York.
The extravagance, however, is justified for Byzantium, a large-scale work for soprano and orchestra, is the most successful of Tippett’s late scores and arguably his finest achievement since The Knot Garden more than 20 years ago. In forsaking his own texts for Yeats’s richly textured poem, Tippett rediscovered his gift for magical word-setting, matching the verbal intensity with a vivid parade of musical imagery which sustains the music at a marvellously high level of inspiration. Both Solti’s highly charged conducting and Robinson’s generous, sensual treatment of the vocal lines match the music’s eloquence; this is, in every sense, a definitive issue. Andrew Clements