Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
String Quartet No. 1 (1933-34 rev 1946) [19.56]
String Quartet No. 3 (1963) [20.37]
Improvisation for unaccompanied cello (1964) [6.11]
Cello Sonata (1946) [24.25]
Michael Dussek (piano)
Dante Quartet
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 14-17 Apr 2002. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7123 [71.41]


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Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
String Quartet No. 2 (1951) [23.42]
String Quartet No. 4 (1975-77) [15.03]
Lyric Movement for String Quartet and Piano (1929, rev 1946) [10.30]
Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn O Quande in Cruce (1962) [10.25]
Michael Dussek (piano)
Dante Quartet
rec. Maltings, Snape, 14-16 May 2001. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7114 [59.13]


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These two discs are only available separately. However it seemed logical and opportune to weave together a single review now that the second of the two discs has been issued.

The heart of the above pair of discs is the complete string quartets of Edmund Rubbra. This is not the first time they have been recorded as a cycle. In the early 1990s, while Conifer were still buoyant, that company recorded the four in a slackly filled two CD set. The young quartet involved was the Sterling. I do not have the Conifer (deleted a couple of years ago and long unavailable) but I do recall that it had more of a distantly recorded perspective than the present Dutton project.

While the First Quartet is dedicated to Vaughan Williams don't for one moment imagine that it will sound entirely like that composer although there are a few fleeting moments where if coasts close to that green and pleasant land. For the most part though this is a work that is of a piece with Rubbra’s own First Symphony and then with the much later Piano Concerto. After an insistently morose lento the finale launches one of those typical ostinati over which Rubbra pitches a quick-running vital sinuous tune; this time with much in common with the Fifth Symphony.

The Second Quartet is in four movements, the first and third being markedly longer than the other two: 8:39; 2:37; 7:31; 3:55. It was premiered in 1952 by the Grillers; the same quartet that premiered Bax's Third in the mid-1930s. The character of the two quartets (Bax’s and Rubbra’s) could hardly be more different: Bax, highly spiced, poetic and dramatic; Rubbra, Beethovenian, earnest, the abnegation of ornament. This monastic severity carries over into the ‘inscape’ of the Cavatina which is an evolution of the adagios of Beethoven's last quartets. There are some lovely things in this quartet but its character overall seems too diffuse - something that cannot be said of Rubbra’s Third.

The Third Quartet was a child (albeit a wise and knowing child) of the 1960s. Intense, grave, dense and then skittish. Overall though this is once again a work of Beethovenian introspection despite an allegro leggiero that flies Tippett-like through the Dark Night of the Soul. It ends with a modestly confident gesture.

Rubbra's last quartet, the Fourth, is dedicated to that other sombre symphonist and quartet writer, Robert Simpson. Simpson, before he fell out with the BBC, was a doughty Rubbra and Brian champion within the Corporation. It was as a result of his street-fighting skills that Rubbra managed to secure various symphony broadcasts in the 1960s and 1970s including key broadcasts of the symphonies by Groves (1 and 2) and Malcolm Arnold (3 and 4). The Fourth was premiered by the Amici who were, in 1978, to record Bax's Third Quartet for Lewis Foreman’s Gaudeamus LP label. The Rubbra is in two concentrated movements vital with both dancing and serious material. John Pickard reminds us that the themes and their treatment are related to the composer's wonderful Eleventh Symphony - itself a miracle of succinctly communicated drama. In the second movement of the quartet the music rises inexorably to a shiningly substantial shudderingly heroic statement (5.32, tr.8) before settling into sempiternal silence. The following downward curvature is almost too steep. I do wonder whether that subsiding should have been more protracted. Is this at the door of Rubbra or of the Dantes? Concise expression is the order of the day in the Eleventh Symphony where form and substance are perfectly matched and resolved. Rubbra could have allowed himself more time in the quartet to trace a steady descent to silence - the sort of thing that the more discursive Pettersson and Hovhaness managed with a surer touch.

The six minute Improvisation is typically serious Rubbra. It prompts thoughts of the Bach suites for solo cello, of the amber-toned reflections of Bax's Rhapsodic Ballad and of the uncanny closeness the Finzi Cello Concerto.

The Cello Sonata has that trademark occluded lyricism. It begins with all the potency of Rubbra's beetling Soliloquy (cello and orchestra - recorded by Rohan de Saram on a Lyrita LP). Rather like the Improvisation this too might occasionally remind you of the Finzi Cello Concerto both in its singing lines and its Bachian contouring. The movements are laid out, slow - fast - slow.

The Lyric Movement is a single movement piece - the earliest across these two discs. It represents a path that was fully subsumed into his mature style. This is Rubbra in densely pastoral style shadowing the Howells of the Fantasy String Quartet and even more so of the Piano Quartet. The form is instantly recognisable as a Cobbett ‘phantasy’ although that name does not appear in the title.

The Byzantine Meditation was written for Maurice Loban, originally for solo viola, who premiered it in December 1962. Rubbra later arranged it for two violas as featured here. It is the most severe work across the two discs with little in the way of surface attraction or varied drama. The work perhaps owes something to the austere Holst - say in the Lyric Movement for viola and the Four Songs for voice and solo violin although, in fairness to readers, those two works have a more open lyrical heart than this work.

Wonderful discs making available vibrant and sincerely expressed music of unaffected profundity well supported in each case by the booklet notes and by the closely engaged recording.

Rob Barnett

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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