I have seen far too few concerts this year. I’m really glad I saw Jah Wobble at last (I didn’t see Public Image until after he left) but I think it’s the last time I’ll be able to stand up waiting for a band to come on late in the evening. The Wigmore Hall lunchtime concerts are more my thing nowadays. However, it was well worth going out in the evening to see two massive works as part of The Rest is Noise: Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony and Tippett’s Child of Our Time. Both overwhelmingly good but there are a dozen other concerts I’d have loved to go to as part of this season – if only they did matinees.
I have loved this work by Tippett since I discovered it in the 1960s, around the same time as Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow. Ryan Wigglesworth conducted with great skill and passion and the choir were in fine voice. The bass, Matthew Rose, was astonishing with every word coming across clearly; the other three soloists were good but slightly less clear. Tippett started writing this oratorio in 1939 on the day Britain declared war and continued through his own internment as a conscientious objector. It deals with the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis but was completed in 1941, before the true horror of the Holocaust was revealed. In looking for a voice to represent an oppressed people, he turned to spirituals rather than more conventional religious passages. I was not sure these would still work but within seconds of “Steal away” starting, the prickles ran not just up my spine but all my body. My only slight reservation was seeing black music sung when there was not a single black person among the 200 or so in the orchestra and choir. This work is crying out for someone to bring it to life with a gospel choir, and Willard White would have been even better as the bass. A great start for my first concert in The Rest is Noise, the massively ambitious run through the 20th century music at the South Bank.