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Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Complete Piano Music

Prelude and Fugue on a them of Cyril Scott Op. 69 (1949);
Sonatina Op. 19 (1928-9)
Fukagawa (c.1929);
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 (1952)

Michael Dussek (and Rachel Dussek in Op74 no 1).
Recorded in the Henry Wood Hall, January 2001
DUTTON Digital CDLX 7112 (61.56)
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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.

Gary Higginson

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