Notes and Editorial Reviews
With this recording of Tippett's fourth opera, composed between 1973 and 1976, the most serious gap in his discography has at last been filled. Anyone who heard the Prom performance of The Ice Break by these artists in the summer of 1990 will not be surprised to know that the recording is a great success, technically as well as artistically. The opera may always present problems to those who attempt to stage it—film could be the answer—but on disc one can appreciate to the full its distinctive lyricism as well as its dramatic punch. For all its brevity—three acts in less than an hour and a quarter--it is neither lightweight nor garbled in the way it deals with its momentous subject-matter.
The title has an obvious double
meaning: memories of the ice breaking on Russian rivers at the beginning of spring are vivid for Nadia and Lev as they struggle to cope with the disorientations of exile, and to break the ice of difficult relationships with their son Yuri and his radical friends, black and white, in an urban jungle much closer to New York than Moscow. In the mid-1970s, when the opera was new, its situations, and the composer's slang-ridden libretto, seemed more limited in impact—closer to what was then the real world— than they do today. Also, the work's concentration, in which Tippett shuns the painstaking character-development and resolutions of 'wellmade' opera to underline his distaste for easy solutions and naive psychologizing, can now be heard as essential to a musical coherence rooted in the balance of strongly-contrasted but never randomly juxtaposed events. The gruesome collective violence and self-indulgent flower-power playacting are complemented by the meditations of individuals who explore the nature of reality as intensely as any of Tippett's operatic characters— Nadia, Lev and, particularly, Hannah, the black nurse whose memorable aria forms the opera's centrepiece.
This is an ensemble opera, and the whole team is as one under David Atherton's galvanizing but never merely hectic direction. The recording is well-conceived to cope with such necessary soundeffects as cheering, sirens and gunshots, while keeping the solo voices clearly focused against the dazzlingly diverse instrumental writing. With excellent documentation from Meirion Bowen in the booklet, this release is another distinguished feather in the Virgin Classics cap. Now for New Year!
-- Gramophone [2/1992]
Works on This Recording
The Ice Break by Michael Tippett
Cynthia Clarey (Soprano),
Sanford Sylvan (Baritone),
Donald Maxwell (Baritone),
Bonaventure Bottone (Tenor),
Thomas Randle (Tenor),
Carolann Page (Soprano),
Heather Harper (Soprano),
Christopher Robson (Countertenor),
Sarah Walker (Mezzo Soprano),
David Wilson-Johnson (Baritone)
London Sinfonietta Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1977; England
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