first glance, Walton and Rubbra appear
unlikely bedfellows; the former, a sophisticate with a penchant
for Elgar and Puccini - the latter,
a modern Bruckner rooted in the spirituality
of Tudor church music. Nonetheless, a closer look reveals two
men with working class backgrounds and sufficient character
to withstand the passing whims of changing musical fashion.
as this fine Hyperion disc demonstrates, Rubbra’s
Viola Concerto of 1952 has several points in common with Walton’s
masterpiece - composed twenty-three years earlier. It uses a
similar formal scheme, two deeply felt movements framing a sprightly
scherzo, is again the product of inner emotional turmoil,
and likewise exploits the motif of a rising/falling minor third
- although without Walton’s major/minor ambivalence. Both works
display an acute understanding of the viola’s husky timbre.
Each is in the key of A minor.
Black’s excellent accompanying notes refer to Rubbra’s
close friendship with Gerald Finzi.
This is appropriate for Rubbra’s concerto
has several telling moments of Finzian
serenity. Its finale, a set of of ‘meditations’, attains a profound inner peace redolent
of “thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears”. It is a
scandal that such music remains so rarely heard.
Walton concerto has been recorded several times. I have a special
fondness for Paul Doktor’s account
recorded in the 1960s for CBS and the Primrose and Riddle interpretations
with Walton at the helm have achieved classic status. This Power/Volkov
performance enterprisingly uses the original 1928/29 version
of the score and is the first modern recording to do so.
is always fascinating to hear a composer’s initial thoughts,
although one must remember that Walton, a perfectionist, remained
a fine reviser of his music. One need only compare the original
version of ‘Scapino’ as heard in the
vintage Stock/Chicago SO recording with the more compact later
incarnation to appreciate this ability. The 1962 revision of
the concerto lightens the scoring and adroitly introduces a
harp; it remains hauntingly beautiful. Crucially, the earlier
edition betrays at times a rawness that comes closer to revealing
a little more of the inner man than may be its composer intended.
fine concertos flank another Rubbra
piece, the ‘Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn’ (1962) for solo
viola, which acts as a bridge from Walton’s world to Rubbra’s.
Power’s performance of the solo part in these pieces is quite
exceptional. Here is pinpoint intonation; an eloquence that
transcends criticism and a flair for narrative that grips the
listener from first note to last. In this, he is aided admirably
by the conductor Ilan Volkov
who grasps not only Walton’s dynamism but also is intuitively
at one with the more elusive Rubbra
idiom. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra rises to the occasion
with scintillating playing.
the listener requiring a modern recording of the Walton, this
is an instant recommendation although Helen Callus’s brilliant
interpretation of the 1962 revision for ASV should not be overlooked.
However, this spaciously recorded Hyperion disc is rendered indispensable
by its inclusion of the Rubbra concerto.
see also Review
by Dominy Clements
RECORDING OF THE MONTH