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RUBBRA String Quartets Sterling Quartet   Conifer 75605 51260 2

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Edmund Rubbra has, for many, a rather forbidding reputation as a composer of "pure", or of "abstract" music; which is to say there are no programmes to his works. Since this could equally be said of Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms, why should there be any problem of popularity for Rubbra? The fascination of watching intervals grow into melodies, and melodies into movements is as exciting as any plot in opera or symphonic poem. Let it also be said now that Rubbra has composed some of the most beautiful melodies in all music. The four String Quartets span Rubbra's entire creative career, from his early thirties to his late seventies, and it is only to be expected that such a mind as his would create four key works in such a medium. The Sterling are therefore to be congratulated on their perspicacity in choosing to record these four masterpieces for their recording debut. They recently included the second quartet in a fine recital at the Wigmore Hall, and showed, there, a deep sympathy for Rubbra's meditative muse. This group of players should be watched for their independent and imaginative programming as well as for their interpretative talents.

There is often in Rubbra's music before the second world war a dignified and awesome anger. It is at its most overwhelming in the first symphony and in parts of the second. It does not appear in his work after the cathartic fourth symphony (1942). The first quartet has some of this spirit in its first movement, and I feel that the Sterlings do not quite project it to the full though they certainly get to the heart of the succeeding tragic processional, and the final dance which it germinates. The confidence with which they then follow the composer into a world which is more tranquil, but not free of shadows, suggests that young artists of spirituality are still with us. It is a sad fact that the only one of these quartets to be recorded before is the second. The Sterlings do it ample justice. Anyone wishing to sample their maturity of feeling for this great composer might try the first movement of this second quartet, and appreciate how they follow it, seamless soaring from song to dance and back. The third quartet is the most relaxed of the four. From ruminating shadows it proceeds to a veritable "dance in the sunlight". The Sterlings have its measure, and their penetration into the elegiac world of the finale of the last quartet is an experience which remains with one long after the music has finished. This is a set to treasure. It is to be hoped that more of Rubbra's chamber music will be recorded. Apart from the violin sonatas and other major works such impressive examples of "multum in parvo" as the Pezzo Ostinato or the Sonatina for recorder and harpsichord need to be heard often.

Michael Freeman.


Michael Freeman.

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