Monday, April 29, 2013

What price Tippett conducting Tippett?

Tucked away on the BBC Radio 3 blog among the usual thoughts of Chairman Roger is a valuable reminiscence by the BBC Symphony Orchestra's sub-principal viola Phil Hall. In his blog post Phil Hall recalls how in March 1993 the BBCSO recorded Michael Tippet's Second and Fourth Symphonies for broadcast with the 88 year old composer conducting. What the post does not go on to explain is that the symphonies were also issued as the free cover mount CD seen above with BBC Music Magazine in 1995, but, to my knowledge - see correction in comments - have never been released as commercial discs.

As I write my BBC CD from 1995 of the Second Symphony plays. It is a spacious reading in which Colin Davis' insistence is traded for the composer's authority; the BBCSO playing is inspired, and the sound captured in All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak is of demonstration quality. Which brings me to the question of why this, and thousands of other valuable recordings, remain hidden in the BBC vaults. In answer to that question vague references are usually made to contractual difficulties. But this has not stopped a limited number of archive recordings being released at almost full price to the benefit of rights owner BBC Worldwide - 2012/13 profit £155m - and of licensee ICA Artists - profit unknown. One of these ICA Classics releases of a BBC archive recording, Sir Adrian Boult's 1976 Elgar First Symphony, was described by me in an earlier post titled A highly recommended rip-off..

If it was commercially viable to give the Tippett CD away to promote another BBC venture in 1995, why cannot it be sold today at a realistic price? It would be doing classical music a valuable service if Tippett conducting Tippett and many other great archive recordings were made available for download and as CDs on a BBC Live label at a price that recoups no more than mastering and distribution costs - £4.99? perhaps - instead of being treated as tradable commodities. There is a fundamental flaw with the current practice of treating great classical recordings like cocoa futures. If the commodity traders misread the cocoa market, some more cocoa can always be grown. But if a corporation misreads the classical market - and let's face it, Universal Music, Warner, the BBC et al have made an Olympic sport out of doing just that - recordings of Tippett conducting Tippett and Boult conducting Elgar can never be grown again.

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Daniel Harding said...

I have had this disc since it came with BBC Music Magazine, and it remains high on my list of favourites; the playing is vigorous, lively, with a joyous first movement and sprightly Scherzo that make me wonder why this symphony has been so neglected. Although written over half a century ago, it's lost none of its vitality, and is accessible without sacrificing Tippett's trademark polytonal language and rhythmic inventiveness.

Let's hope it's re-issued soon, so more people can hear it!

Out of the lion's mouth... said...

I think if you check the NMC label you will see this recording is already available, as both CD at full price or download at a reduced price. I have a copy of the original BBC Music Magazine issue. It is the 2nd Symphony I tend to return to, it still retains that Midsummer Marriage magic that runs through his Fantasia Concertante on a theme by Corelli and the Piano Concerto.

David said...

I'm sure I saw just these performances released commercially (though as I'm firing this off the top of my head, no chance to check). Surely good enough to make one love the piece, but isn't the sound too reverberant? And doesn't some of the playing remind one that sessions with Sir Michael could be a little fraught at times?

Anyway, I've found the CDS saved from the BBC Music Magazine invaluable for taking off the shelves when I don't have a performance (or as good a performance) in the standard A-Z collection. Good case in point being Poulenc's Gloria, where the old Pretre was a bit disadvantaged by Barbara Hendricks - and there was Andrew Davis, the BBCSO and - a surprising but rather good choice, especially for the 'Amens' - Christine Brewer.

Phil Hall's hidden-away blog entries are a treasure. They deserve a more up-front home.

Pliable said...

Out of the lion's mouth is quite correct and I am wrong, this recording is available from NMC -

Which is good news, but does raise a number of important points. One is about the quality of classical metadata - a subject raised here before

Before saying that "to my knowledge" the CD was not commercially available I carefully searched online and drew a blank. It is also unfortunate that the official BBC Radio 3 blog failed to mention its availability.

Then there is the pricing - £12.99 for the CD and £7.99 & £8.99 for MP3 and FLAC downloads respectively.

If anyone is going to make a turn on this recording I would prefer it to be NMC rather than the ICA/IMG nexus. But £12.99 for a recording that was paid for by license fee payers in 1993 and which is now incurring only marginal costs? Sorry, but that is exploitative.

So apologies for saying this fine recording is not commercially available. But its virtual invisibility and pricing reinforce my call for the BBC to show a more responsible attitude towards the exploitation of their intellectual property assets.

Pliable said...

It is also worth pointing out that Nimbus also has two discs of Tippett conducting his own music.

One contains his sadly neglected Triple Concerto together with the Piano Concerto, and the orchestra is the BBC Philharmonic -

The other is a mixed bag of works fronted by the Ritual Dances, the orchestra this time is the English Northern Philharmonia - which is the recording name of the Orchestra of Opera North -