Review by Rob Barnett:-
The discreet level of hiss on this digitally remastered disc betrays its
analogue origins. This is only apparent when driven at high volumes or when
listening on headphones . The intrinsic sound is a model of clarity although
the high strings show some signs of stress due to their July 1976 vintage.
The original tapes were taken down at Southampton's Guildhall one the Bournemouth
Sinfonietta's regular haunts.
The symphony shows all the signs of inwardness and reflection that we expect
from Rubbra with, at 5.50 onwards, some extremely Sibelian woodwind writing.
The work has much of the character of a prayer and little (in fact nothing)
of the showman about it. There is a tape blip at 10.55 in the middle of the
oboe song that arches over that section of work. A lovely violin solo soars
out of the background of polyphonic threads at 14.30 reminiscent of Gerald
Finzi's Introit. The work is subtle arch of meditation completely eschewing
anything dramatic or heroic; that seems to have been reserved for his next
symphony which is of course for full orchestra.
A Tribute (originally Introduction and Danza alla fuga) was written
for Vaughan Williams on his 70th birthday and partners similar works by six
other British composers approached for this purpose by the BBC. We hear about
Finzi and Lambert's contributions. What were the other works? The Rubbra
is in sharp contrast to the turbulent heroism of the Fourth Symphony dating
from the year previous. The work does not emulate RVW's style at all and
there is no reason why it should.
The Farnaby Improvisations were written at the behest of Rubbra's
publishers as a lighter weight work less costly to produce and more accessible
to a wider audience. The performance is alert and classically bright-eyed;
rather Stravinskian in a neo-classical sense though by no means desiccated.
There are five movements. The Conceit (I) seems rather contrived-archaic
to my ears and just a bit superficial (not a quality I associate with Rubbra).
The second movement (His Dreame) is a gem of restful beauty. His Humour has
a glinting Pulcinella brightness. The glum Loth to Depart has a low profile.
The final Tell me Daphne is arch though delicate. Parallel works in the English
sphere are Warlock's Capriol and, more to the point, Moeran's Serenade.
The playing time is rather short but this is compensated for by the composer's
own notes (as always rather unforthcoming on biographical background) and
by pointed and sensitive performances by a conductor who went on to record
Rubbra's Fifth Symphony with an Australian orchestra. I wonder if there are
other Schönzeler Rubbra tapes in existence? If so I would like to hear
him in something with greater emotional emphasis than the present works,
affectingly done as they are.
This is for Rubbra aficionados rather than the place from which to launch
a journey of discovery.