WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Fantasia concertante on a theme of Corelli; Fantasia on a theme of Handel
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano); Bournemouth SO/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9233 DDD
With his Symphony No. 4 of 1977, Tippett successfully confronted the joint challenges of a Sibelius-like symphonic concision and the descriptive and formal needs of the symphonic poem, with his use of amplified breathing to illustrate the progress of man from birth to death. As only the work’s second recording, this new issue inevitably comes up against the competition of the original by Solti and the Chicago SO (Decca), currently available both in the complete set of symphonies and newly re-coupled with Byzantium.
Comparing the two, there are pros and cons to both. Solti’s is virtuosic in a refined, even over-refined and antiseptic way, with the unsurpassed Chicago brass in their element. Hickox’s Bournemouth players, on the other hand, sound less assured in the more energetic passages, as well as being less clearly recorded (the massed brass sonorities often lack definition), yet they offer a more fluid and enjoyable account as a whole, with an almost voluptuous approach to the more lyrical moments of the slow central section.
The couplings are more sympathetically recorded and show Tippett reacting to Baroque themes and forms. The Corelli work is sumptuously played – a version as successful as the classic Academy of St Martin’s on Decca – while the dedicated performance of the rarely heard, earnest Handel fantasia from the 1940s is a welcome addition to the Tippett discography. Matthew Rye