Tippett: A Child of Our Time. Pumeza Matshikiza, soprano; Dame Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano; Joshua Stewart, tenor; Ashley Riches, bass-baritone;  BBC Symphony Chorus; BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis. © 2024 Chandos Records Ltd


A Real Find

GEOFF PEARCE urges you to listen to this recording of Tippett's 'A Child of Our Time'

'This recording cannot help but deliver a stellar result ...'


I first heard of this work when I was a boy. The local music teachers described it as being an oratorio that was influenced by jazz, and did not take it seriously. Living in NZ, there was no opportunity to hear it performed, and I do not believe it was even programmed on the radio at the time I was living there. Performances in Australia and New Zealand have been few and far between, and I do not believe there were any performances in the areas I have been living in, to get to hear it. Since 2000, it has been performed here a few times and there appears to be growing interest in the work.

Listen — Tippett: How can I cherish my man ... (A Child of Our Time Part I)
(CHSA 5341 track 8, 0:00-0:49) ℗ 2024 Chandos Records Ltd :

As I am fond of Michael Tippett (1905-1998) as a composer, I was keen to hear this early work that established his reputation as a composer. The work was started in earnest in 1939 after Germany and Britain declared war, and the background and inspiration that inspired Tippett to write this work and the circumstances of composition are well described in the supplied booklet and are fascinating in themselves. Tippett modelled the work on Handel's Messiah, in three parts, and the libretto that the composer wrote follows a similar course, of prophesy, narrative of events, and reflection. He was also inspired by J S Bach's passions. He did not want the work to reflect any particular religion, so did not use Lutheran hymn tunes, or Jewish tunes, but settled upon using five African American spirituals inserted in varying places throughout the work, rather in the manner that Bach used chorales in his passions.

Listen — Tippett: Go Down Moses (A Child of Our Time Part II)
(CHSA 5341 track 22, 0:58-1:38) ℗ 2024 Chandos Records Ltd :

Hence the belief at the time of many commentators that Tippett was influenced by jazz. It was not performed until 1944, when Benjamin Britten urged Walter Goehr to organise the performance.

I was struck immediately by the sadness and emotional power of the piece, along with the beauty and originality of it. There are elements of the works that influenced Tippett in his conception, such as many of the solos have obligato instruments, the fugato passages, weighty choruses and recitatives sung by a narrator, as well as the overall structure. The work certainly does not sound baroque though, and listening to it in it's entirety, I think it is one of the loveliest works I have heard, and it is one that I am certainly going to avail myself frequently as it moved me much more than I thought it would. No 26, 'the Cold Deepens', is particularly memorable.

Listen — Tippett: The Cold Deepens (A Child of Our Time Part III)
(CHSA 5341 track 27, 1:36-2:35) ℗ 2024 Chandos Records Ltd :

A useful addition would be the full libretto, as in some passages, it was difficult to follow the words.

Assembled for this recording is a marvellous list of soloists and one of the world's great orchestras, along with a very experienced and fine conductor, Sir Andrew Davis. This recording cannot help but deliver a stellar result, and is one of those works that I would urge all music lovers to hear. For me at least, this has been a real find.

Copyright © 14 April 2024 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



 << Home              Next review >>