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John JOUBERT (b. 1927)
Temps Perdu: Variations for String Orchestra, Op. 99 (1984)
Sinfonietta, Op. 38 (1962)
The Instant Moment: song-cycle for Baritone and String Orchestra, Op. 110 (1987) *
Henry Herford, baritone *
English String Orchestra
William Boughton, conductor
Recorded at Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham, 21st March 1987.

This CD represents the work of the British Music Society at its most vital, issuing a splendid disc of the criminally neglected orchestral music of South African born, Francophile British composer John Joubert. It couples two 1980s commissions from the English String Orchestra, purveyors of many celebrated Nimbus recordings, with the much earlier Sinfonietta. The Proust-inspired Temps Perdu consists of a theme and four variations upon it, each given a French subtitle. Its origins are in a revised and extended piece of the composer's juvenilia. The relevance of the last comment is only that, like Proust's famous series of novels, the piece is intimately related to memories. The connection is strengthened by the incorporation of a theme from Saint-Saëns' D minor Violin Sonata, one central to Proust's Swann's Way as the composer explains in his illuminating booklet notes. The music itself is graceful, restrained, warm, emotive and suitably nostalgic though not in a saccharine way. I was reminded at various points of, perhaps unsurprisingly, Ravel, Berkeley and maybe even Tippett. The string writing is elegant and skilfully wrought to produce a work that truly sings and deserves, to my mind, to sit as an equal alongside the best of British music for string orchestra. The most obvious comparison is perhaps Britten's great Frank Bridge Variations but Joubert is bigger on beauty than irony or bleakness. On this recording the composer was proud to have his son, ESO member Pierre, take one of the solo violin parts.

The Sinfonietta of 1962 is scored for chamber forces - two oboes, two bassoons, two horns plus strings. Although cast in two movements, the second contains two distinct sections, with the concluding Allegro related to the first movement. Given the instrumentation, it is unsurprising to find that the textures are translucent and the music concise. In addition to the composers mentioned above, late Sibelius, e.g. 6th Symphony, Tapiola, crosses the mind here in the scurrying rhythms, although the overwhelming influence remains fairly Gallic- with a Poulenc-like neo-classicism in the climaxes. The Molto moderato, the first part of the second movement, opens with haunting, pastoral oboe music before the horns usher in a more expansive string section. This increases in urgency until the piece comes full circle as it revisits its opening themes.

The song-cycle for baritone, The Instant Moment, is the most recent work and generally adopts tempi slower than those of the non-vocal pieces, lending it a somewhat more romantic character. Henry Herford sings the D.H. Lawrence settings as if his life depends on it and the work as a whole is not quite like anything else in British music. The particular poems set deal mainly with Lawrence's developing relationship with his future wife Frieda when they had eloped to the continent in 1912. Bei Hennef opens the cycle in blissful fashion, with Joubert's strings imitating the little River Sieg in the Rhineland perfectly, but the following Loggerheads is far more animated - a highly melodic but still disturbed faster piece. The composer sees the poem as prefiguring "some of Lawrence and Frieda's notorious rows". December Night is overtly romantic, maybe even erotic and certainly finds Joubert at his most Wagnerian. The music here is almost lush, certainly compared to the Sinfonietta. The closing Moonrise is a fitting climax to both piece and disc as a whole. Again the composer shows his expertise in matching musical mood perfectly to the poem, in this case an almost mystical although emotional meditation on the theme of "true love as everlasting, as 'a thing beyond the grave'".

The Instant Moment is Joubert's Op. 110 and it is both regrettable and unbelievable that virtually none of his other music has been made available in recorded form, other than what is on this disc and the odd compilation featuring his religious works. There is more than ample evidence here to suggest that this unsatisfactory state of affairs is long overdue to be rectified. Anyone out there at Naxos or the rejuvenated Nimbus fancy taking it on? There is surely an audience just waiting to hear music of such quality and accessibility. Recommended unreservedly.

Neil Horner

British Music Society


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