Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Complete Piano Music
Prelude and Fugue on a them of Cyril Scott Op. 69 (1949);
Sonatina Op. 19 (1928-9)
Introduction, aria and fugue Op. 104 (1959-60);
Eight Preludes Op. 131 (1966);
Nemo Fugue (c.1960);
Four Studies Op. 139 (1971);
Invention on the name of Haydn Op. 160 (1982);
Fantasy Fugue Op. 161 (1982)
Nine teaching Pieces Op. 74
Michael Dussek (and Rachel
Dussek in Op74 no 1).
Recorded in the Henry Wood Hall, January
DUTTON Digital CDLX 7112
This is the first CD to be completely devoted to Rubbra's piano music and
very well timed it is too, arriving just a month after the date of Rubbra's
centenary. Back in 1981, as an 80th birthday gift to the composer,
Edward Moore recorded for Phoenix on a long defunct LP (DGS 1009) the Opp
69. 131, 19 (only the 3rd movement entitled 'Introduction and
Fugue'), 74 and 104. Moore ended with the Studies Op 139.
The Cyril Scott piece Op. 69 was also recorded by Michael Hill (as ex-pupil
of the composer) on Rubbra Chamber Music Volume 1 (DRVCD 104). He also recorded
a work dedicated to him: the Fantasy Fugue. Even more recently the Eight
Preludes have been recorded by David Mason on Deux-Elles (DXL 1012).
Dussek's success with the opening Op. 69 Prelude and Fugue is because he
moves the fugue subject along with more impetus, at about crotchet=90, whereas
Michael Hill is very laboured and a little slower than Rubbra's marking of
crotchet=66. Curiously Hill was tutored by the composer who endorsed his
performance. (Rubbra had of course died by the time Hill recorded the work
in 1992). Also the last four bars of the piece, in which the opening is suddenly
alluded to and which so often seems like a miscalculation on Rubbra's part,
sounds natural and effortless, here, at this faster speed. Normally I would
not condone such playing fast and loose with Rubbra's metronome markings
but here it works and gives the piece a lift.
I did not realise, and neither it seems did Ralph Scott Grover in his definitive
tome on 'The music of Edmund Rubbra' (Scolar Press, Aldershot, 1993), that
there was a Sonatina extant. Stainer and Bell published the Introduction
and Fugue Op19c as a separate piece, which is all that Rubbra released for
publication. The first two movements are attractive and worth knowing but
the Sonatina as a whole does not meld together. Rubbra of course realised
that. Nevertheless it is curious that he did not allow or push publication
of some of his earlier, less characteristic works. Like the 1st
Violin Sonata Op.11 (on Dutton 7101) and the song 'Who is Sylvia?' Op. 8
no 3. This Sonatina is out of the same stable as these works and indeed the
better known 2nd Violin Sonata Op 31. Listeners may well call
to mind the somewhat diffuse style of Cyril Scott in the second movement.
Rubbra knew Scott well and promoted his music.
The following piece 'Fukagawa' is not mentioned in Lengnick's catalogue of
Rubbra's works, was not given an opus and is not mentioned by Grover. It
can also be found in a version for harp on ASV (CD DCA 1036) it is an arrangement
of a traditional Japanese melody and works equally well for either instrument.
Also new to me, and not in the Grover book, is the brief 'Nemo Fugue' of
c. 1960. I wonder what it was meant to be part of? Its subject is remarkably
like that of the Fantasy Fugue of 20 years later.
The Introduction and Fugue was written for harpsichord and the piano is a
possible option. Edward Moore is very successful in making it a piano piece
with a real delicacy of touch. Michael Dussek begins the work with a rush
of notes that is certainly not 'Grave' but could be described as 'appasionato'
(Rubbra's markings). The ornaments that follow in bars 3 and 4 seem hopelessly
rushed. In fact in this piece a steadier tempo in general would have helped.
I have to confess myself often unimpressed by Rubbra's most important piano
work, the Eight Preludes, and I have heard several pianists tackle it. After
Dussek's performance I felt that I liked the work after all. When I came
to check the overall timings with those of David Mason I was astonished to
discover that Dussek knocks almost 2 minutes off his overall length, including
one minute off the first prelude! Rubbra marks it Lento ma con rubato and
I feel Dussek has got it just right here. The heavy and perhaps ponderous
quality of this piece and of Prelude number 6, benefit from a tempo lift,
and this kind of a light touch.
The 'Invention on the name of Haydn' is a workshop chipping, which I have
always enjoyed. It was first performed and recorded by the BBC who commissioned
it. John McCabe played it on the day of the 250th birthday of
Haydn in 1982. Several other composers were commissioned to write miniatures
for the same programme I recall.
The teaching pieces Op. 74 come from an attractive collection of five books
of piano pieces by ten composers. These were published by Lengnicks in the
early '50s but are still available. I, for one, still happily use them. Other
contributors were Bernard Stevens and Malcolm Arnold. Rubbra's contributions
are immediately attractive and distinctive.
It is a particular joy to welcome a new recording artist to the catalogue.
She is Miss Rachel Dussek, daughter of Michael who here plays the first piece
'Question and answer' very beautifully indeed. I can quite see why her father
did not want to compete with playing of this order. There is a photograph
of Rachel (aged about 7?) and her father in the beautifully produced CD booklet.
This also includes a fine picture of Rubbra deeply engrossed at the piano.
The liner notes in English only are also by Dussek.
Michael Dussek has already featured on two other Rubbra CDs in recent times,
the Violin Sonatas (CDX 7101) and various pieces of Chamber Music (CDLX 7106).
He has, it seems to me, more inside knowledge of Rubbra at the piano than
anyone around. He plays totally sympathetically and with suitable restraint
and passion where appropriate. We have much to be grateful for from him and
from Michael Dutton the guiding light behind these recordings. I believe
that the string quartets are next to be released.