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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Symphony No. 5 (1949) [29.02]
Loth to Depart from Farnaby Improvisations () [4.10]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Violin Concerto (original version) () [31.12]
Michael HEMING (1920-1942) arr Anthony COLLINS (1893-1963)

Threnody for a Soldier Killed in Action () [6.25]
Theo Olof (violin)
Hallé Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli
rec No. 1 Studio, Abbey Rd, London, 18 Dec 1950 (Loth); 14-15 Dec 1950, (Rubbra 5); 29 Apr 1948 (Britten); 20 Mar 1945 (Heming) ADD MONO
EMI CLASSICS CDM 5 66053 2 [71.04]
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Listening to Theo Olof's flourishingly passionate attack and imaginative deftness in the Britten concerto I was reminded of Olof's similar and equally fruitful pioneering of the Rawsthorne first violin concerto. Ida Haendel breathed just as much romantic plasma into this work when she tackled it with Berglund in the 1970s. The vibrancy of Olof's approach is quite at odds with the colder objectivity of the Decca recording artists from the Britten ‘true way’ - Mark Lubotsky, the composer and the ECO. Rodney Friend in his CFP recording was almost as fiery. The engineering of the Olof is not of the best. The sound is stable if whiskery.

The Heming Threnody was woven from various sketches left behind by Michael Heming, son of the baritone Percy Heming. Michael was killed in action at El Alamein the first true Allied victory of the Second World War. Anthony Collins (he of Beulah Sibelius fame) created this work and it has some passing echoes of Butterwoth's Shropshire Lad Rhapsody and the delicacy of Delius and of Schreker and Zemlinsky. It is not a work of great dramaturgical landmarks and its thematic material is not indelible stuff.

The Rubbra symphony was recorded in the composer's presence. It was the first of the composer's symphonies to be recorded under a project funded by the British Council. Boult rather than Barbirolli had given the premiere but Barbirolli was the one who ran with the work including it in the Hallé's 1949-50 season and at Cheltenham where he and his orchestra were a perennial fixture until the anti-romantic tendency began to tighten its death grip. For upwards of two decades this was the only Rubbra symphony in the catalogue. This situation was only changed by Boult's Lyrita SRCS recording of the Seventh symphony in 1970. The Fifth is commonly reckoned to be his most popular but although it has some considerable virtues (including some of Rubbra's best thematic invention) it stands eclipsed by the truly symphonic gravity that radiates from the Fourth and Eleventh Symphonies. How different Rubbra's story might have been if the Fourth rather than the Fifth had been recorded. There is a seriousness and a smallness of scale about the Fifth. However when the gravity of affairs subsides as in the allegro vivo and the allegro moderato the music dances like brusque and blustering angels. The recording quality is good with solo lines emerging with strength.

Extremely valuable notes by Michael Kennedy reminding us, amongst much else, that BBC house conductor Maurice Handford was in the horn section of the Hallé for the recording of the Rubbra symphony.

Vintage recordings of rare material.

Rob Barnett


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