This disc fills a gap in the expanding Rubbra discography and is very welcome,
being sensitively played and beautifully recorded. Only the Second Sonata
has been recorded before and that, at least three times: Albert Sammons and
Gerald Moore c.1941 the only work Rubbra had recorded before about 1950;
Rubbra with Kantorovich c.1950; Llyn Fletcher in 1992 for Dervorguilla (CD104,
Rubbra Chamber Music).
The First Sonata remains unpublished and, from Rubbra's point of view, one
can see why as he probably felt that it lacked stylistic unity. The first
movement is reminiscent of John Ireland and the third is a curious chromatic
fugue which shows the influence of Rubbra's loves at that time, Cyril Scott
and Scriabin. Speaking of 'loves', it was written for Antoinette Chaplin
who became the first Mrs. Rubbra in 1931. It is a beautiful work, especially
the second movement, and deserves to be published. I can only recall hearing
it once before, in a broadcast about ten years ago with Eric Gruenberg
accompanied by our own John McCabe.
Rubbra always writes beautifully for the violin. There is also the Violin
Concerto (1958) and the Improvisation for Violin and Orchestra (1956). Rubbra
in fact had lessons on the instrument for many years from his piano teacher's
wife, Grace Howard-Jones (nee Thynne).
It is worth saying that these works do not quite qualify as the complete
music for violin and piano as, although the disc is just less than an hour
long, the Op 144 Five Graded Pieces written for the Guildhall School of Music's
examinations (Rubbra was for a while on the staff there) are curiously omitted.
They have a similar purpose to the lovely but equally didactic Four Pieces
Op 29. I do hope that young players might be exposed to these now that they
can be heard on CD. For anyone not convinced that Rubbra could write a tune
just listen to No.3 the Slow Dance.
Of course, early Rubbra, by which I mean the Rubbra works dating from the
period which culminates in the incredibly exciting 1st Symphony (1937) almost
seems like a different 'animal' from the later Rubbra. The Second Sonata
includes a wild Spanish type dance, which is like nothing else in Rubbra's
output. Ralph Scott Grover in his excellent book 'The Music of Edmund Rubbra'
(Scolar Press 1993) talks here of Bartokian influence. Bartok was a composer
Rubbra greatly admired and spoke to me about on several occasions. Here the
sonata is superbly played and Osostowicz who never relaxes the tension and
is slightly faster than Llyn Fletcher.
The Third Sonata is a masterpiece, a superbly blended cross between the
improvisatory and the schematic. Lewis Foreman, in his excellent notes, describes
it as enigmatic, but having been closely acquainted with the piece now for
25 years I feel that it has a strength of design and character that only
slowly grow on one. I wonder how long these performers have known it. They
play with great assurance and confidence. The work was first heard in 1968.
Incidentally I must contradict the comment made by Scott Grover that the
Third Sonata was not played in London until the Wigmore Hall performance
of 13 June 1985. When Rubbra retired from the Guildhall in 1975 his students,
including myself, organised a farewell concert for him on 26 March in which
David Butler and Robert Penkett played the Third Sonata. The composer was
The Variations make a compact and elusive work: 12 variations and a coda
packed into 6 minutes. It demonstrates Rubbra's unique view of variation
form where there is a greater sense of metamorphosis than of strict variation.
The variations were written for Frederick Grinke, a fine player who had promoted
Rubbra' s earlier sonatas.