THE Hallé’s principal guest conductor, Sheffield-born Ryan Wigglesworth, has been in that role just over a year now, and he conducts a big (and fascinating) programme at the Bridgewater Hall on Thursday.
The music is Copland’s evergreen Fanfare For The Common Man, followed by Britten’s Sinfonia Da Requiem and Tippett’s A Child Of Our Time – the latter an oratorio famous for its choral arrangements of Afro-American spirituals.
The three are linked because they all relate closely to the Second World War. Copland’s fanfare, from 1942, was inspired by America’s entry into the conflict. Britten’s work was commissioned by Japan before Pearl Harbor but rejected because of its overt pacifism – John Barbirolli premiered it in New York in 1940. A Child Of Our Time was written in the early years of war, inspired by the death of a young Jewish refugee and the ‘Kristallnacht’ pogroms of 1938 – Tippett, like Britten a pacifist, was equally horrified by Naziism and the destructive forces of war.
“Something remarkable always happens when this work is performed,” says Ryan Wigglesworth. “It’s one of those pieces that becomes much bigger than perhaps even the composer himself thought he had achieved.”
Tippett’s own recording of it carries a shattering resonance from the apartheid era in South Africa: the choral climax on ‘Let My People Go!’ at the close of the spiritual, Go Down Moses, is unforgettable.
The spirituals punctuate the work almost as do church chorales in Bach’s Passion settings.
“I think it was a bold decision for him to include them, because they have their own language, different from his own, and yet the arrangements are wonderfully and very deftly done,” the conductor (himself also a composer) comments.
“Britten’s work is in a sense the opposite to Tippett’s, because although both were early in their careers when they wrote them, Britten had a fair amount of music behind him by then.
“But I think it’s in this piece that he really found his voice. There’s an orchestral sound that came out of Mahler and others he admired, but it’s more piercing and has a powerful architectural clarity.
“It has simple ideas with enormous emotional effect, and he was becoming a master of deploying instrumental colours – he knew how to hold something back until it could make maximum impact, as he did with the saxophone in this music.”
Hallé Orchestra and Choir, soloists, Bridgewater Hall, Oct 27, 7.30pm