Review by Rob Barnett:-
This disc couples two previously unrecorded works. By the time Chandos had
made a start many of the symphonies had, by a process of gradual accretion,
been recorded commercially however numbers 1, 3, 8, 9 and 11 had been
recalcitrant. It was only a project of Chandos's thoroughness and resolve
that would bring these works out into the light.
The Symphony is characteristic of the turmoil of the 1930s and has clear
(though presumably quite coincidental) linkages with Holmboe's Symphonies
2 and 3. The first movement in particular is a portrait of conflict and vigour.
The second is insistently and dancingly repetitive - reminiscent of Vaughan
Williams. The finale suggests a grey land of comfort - a comfort amidst the
singing of desolate songs. There are high serenading strings relaxed but
grand in stride and expansive in breadth. These are hefted by high trumpets
and tolling timpani and those trumpets majestically top the textures in the
A Tribute speaks a language of reserved eloquence but with a hint
of Rubbra's typically ecstatic dancing.
The Sinfonia Concertante is austere with a first movement of a Bachian
repose rooted deep in the piano solo. This contrasts with the clean romanticism
of the strings. There is no decadence at all. We encounter a more Sibelian
Rubbra than we are used to in the strings. That little snap and slide in
the strings (3.50) links with Allan Pettersson's Symphony No. 7. At 6.40
Finzi's influence can be discerned (Finzi and Rubbra were friends) linking
with Finzi's Grand Fantasia and Toccata and Eclogue. This is spliced with
a Bartokian disruption in the tonality and the snap and slide of a Hungarian
pifferario. This is a long first movement rounded out with a grim, heavy-footed
and doomed march. The second movement's high jinks suggests Mendelssohn's
Italian Symphony but with the barbed effect of a smashed mirror, diabolically
energetic piano writing and gratingly harsh brass climaxes.
The finale is a prelude and fugue in response to Holst's death. A sweet violin
solo, perhaps rather indeterminate leads to a Brahmsian heroism and a quiet
and hearty Bachian spirit.
Review by Hubert Culot:-
For many years Rubbra's First has been something of a mystery work; more
discussed than heard. Comments as to its forbidding character and thick
orchestration have been numerous. When the piece was revived some years ago
it was revealed as one of Rubbra's most impressive achievements. True, the
music - especially in the first movement - may be a good deal more aggressive
than we have come to expect. It possesses a formidable energy propelled by
forceful ostinati and the tension generated in the course of the first movement
never slackens, even in the slower episodes. The second movement
Périgourdine (after an old French tune) provides some relaxation from
the accumulated tension. The music becomes weightier, darker, more dissonant
as it progresses towards its climax. The long, mainly slow third movement
is the real heart of the symphony and most resembles what we have come to
recognise as Rubbra's own voice. It opens with a beautiful dialogue between
the solo cello and the solo viola over a pizzicato ostinato from the basses.
The music slowly develops towards another powerful climax before reverting
to a more peaceful conclusion though the latter is not easily reached.
That symphonic thinking was central to Rubbra's preoccupations is evident
from his Sinfonia Concertante; Rubbra's first large-scale orchestral piece.
Obviously he did not mean it to be a confrontational concerto but rather
a work in which both piano and orchestra share a symphonic argument. Even
in shorter works such as A Tribute Rubbra does not depart from such symphonic
thinking. © Hubert Culot
Symphony No. 1
BBCSO/Simon Joly 29 Jan 1988
composer (piano) / City of Birmingham Orchestra / Boult early 1950s?