Review by Rob Barnett:-
The second symphony is another product of the 1930s but revised in 1950.
It typifies various Rubbra traits: the long lines of the strings, repose
(unsmug), strings whirling and probing as a scimitar and a refreshing debt
to Sibelius. The other three movements compellingly explore Beethovenian
spirit, brass stabs (Nielsen is a reference point), dancing fugues, an adagio
of Shostakovich-like edge and a grand turbulent finale ploughing ever onwards.
For the Sixth Symphony the opening bars seem to say 'here is comfort'. This
is succeeded by dancing Sibelian woodwind (compare Sibelius 3), a heartless
and impersonal celerity, much serenity from high violin music, a hint of
Copland's 'song of the lonely prairies' or even of Alain Fournier's Grand
Meaulnes: a fragile beauty out of the pages of Neptune. If you know the second
symphony of Randall Thompson (and you should!) the scherzo will seem familiar
though it has a more opaque effect than Thompson. The finale's cor anglais
sings a self-absorbed solo: 'The Swan Of Chiltern' perhaps - passionate and
passionate strings (2.26), and a Christmas carol brass chorale (8.30) courses
irrepressibly over the top of the musical texture. A masterful work.
Review by Hubert Culot:-
"Edmund Rubbra's symphonies trace a path of spiritual searching which ran
throughout his life...The search was, rather, a journey towards the fulfilment
of fundamental ideas realised in terms of musical unity, cohesion and
organicism." (Robert Saxton). True, and this is why all Rubbra symphonies
sound alike and, at the time, why each of them is different from the other.
From the first symphony onwards, Rubbra's symphonic quest is for greater
cohesion and more complete integration; a quest that eventually led him to
experiment with compressed symphonic forms culminating in his last masterpiece,
the tenth symphony.
The second and sixth symphonies have much in common. They are nevertheless
very contrasted. The second symphony was written immediately after the completion
of the first symphony (Op. 44), almost as if Rubbra felt that ideas from
his first symphony needed to be experienced in another way than in the
uncompromising First. The second symphony already exhibits a greater clarity
and a comparatively simpler working-out of its basic ideas. This is partly
achieved through the scoring.
Somebody once said that you do not really notice Rubbra's scoring because
it is intimately linked to the musical ideas. In spite of what some may say,
Rubbra was a fine orchestrator. He found the only scoring suited to his musical
thinking. Just listen to the splendid scherzo of the second symphony. The
Symphony No. 6 (1953/4) had the unfavourable privilege of coming fairly soon
after the most popular Rubbra symphony (No. 5, 1948). This may be why it
has been rather less popular than its predecessor although it possesses many
qualities likely to compete with those of the Fifth. It has a beautiful Canto:
largo e sereno: one of Rubbra's most beautiful movements.
Recordings of these symphonies once available on Lyrita LPs have been re-issued
in CD format. These performances by Handley (No. 2 SRCD235) and Del Mar (No.
6 SRCD234) were and still are superb. The present Hickox readings are very
fine and beautifully recorded. These beautiful works are among Rubbra's finest
achievements. This Rubbra cycle is yet another fine achievement and must
be unreservedly welcomed. Hubert Culot
Symphony No. 2
Symphony No. 6
BBCSO/Rudolf Schwarz 1960s?