It was a moving performance that the RLPO and the Leeds Festival Chorus, led by Simon Wright, delivered in Leeds Town Hall when they brought Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time to the stage. The grand oratorio was written 1939–1941 under the impression of the horrors of the Nazi regime, yet one could not help but notice that its inherent message – against oppression and outlawing, broadly speaking – has not lost its topicality today.

Jennifer Johnston © Gisela Schenker
Jennifer Johnston
© Gisela Schenker
This enormous piece, consisting of three parts and requiring a large orchestra, a choir and an ensemble of four singers, exhibited a sound world which was governed by a clearly structured, often contrapuntal texture as well as a range of various atmospheres: sometimes light-hearted and hopeful, sometimes desolate or desperate as in the questions of a mother faced with war, exclaimed by soprano Rebecca Evans. At times, the music even adopted a tone reminiscent of Kurt Weill’s songs, e.g. in the first solo of tenor Ben Johnson who stood out by his expressive performance. Again and again, there was a dramatic outburst, e.g. along with the verses – the libretto was written by Tippett himself – “Is evil then good?” and “We are lost”, reinforced by mezzo soprano Jennifer Johnston whose singing was throughout engaging.

When the so-called “Chorus of the Oppressed” had the floor, the music became very dissonant, yet this passage ended, surprisingly, with a bright major chord. Another remarkable feature of the oratorio is the inclusion of spirituals such as “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve seen”. In the section “A Spiritual of Anger”, this effect was used for a most impressive musical highlight when, with great articulation and emphasis, bass David Wilson-Johnson intonated the spiritual “Go down, Moses” in turns with the choir whispering “let my people go”.

The suspenseful beginning of the second part of A Child of Our Time was one of the many occasions when the Leeds Festival Chorus could demonstrate their abilities, skilfully led by its conductor Simon Wright. Tippett bestowed a hopeful ending upon his gripping, often sorrowful work, a musical apotheosis finishing an exciting performance which was met with much applause by the audience.

In the first part on the evening, together with Spanish violinist Leticia Moreno, the RLPO gave a most lively rendition of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. Against the pulsating background of orchestra, Moreno opened the first movement with a delicate and floating sound, every note full of vibrato. In her highly versatile playing, she alternated between a lyrical and soft, a forward-pressing and a straightforward, self-confident tone. That she was eager to communicate with the musicians of the RLPO was visible not least by her turning away from the audience and towards the orchestra at times.

After a short introduction, the light-hearted theme and expressive melodies of the third movement were presented with a lot of spirit by Leticia Moreno, yet the fast and bouncing figures of the main theme were not always perfectly together with the orchestra. All in all, it was an enjoyable and very charismatic performance, and it seemed negligible that now and then Moreno’s passionate playing led to some musical inaccuracies. In the end, Wright and the RLPO drove Mendelssohn’s energetic piece towards a thrilling conclusion.

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