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Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1988)
Symphonies – No. 3, Op. 49 (1939) [32’34]; No. 4, Op. 53 (1942) [26’59]. A Tribute, Op. 56 (1971) [5’03]. Overture Resurgam, Op. 149 (1975) [7’59]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Norman Del Mar.
No rec. info. DDD

Here is the ideal introduction to the music of Edmund Rubbra. The Third and Fourth symphonies (fine works, both) sandwich two shorter, but still impressive, orchestral works.

Robert Layton provides a sterling example of a programme note. As he quite rightly says, ‘Edmund Rubbra belongs to the same generation of English composers as William Walton and Michael Tippett … but has never enjoyed the same measure of exposure’. Perhaps bringing these Lyrita discs once more to the public’s attention will do something to rectify the situation.

The Third Symphony is quite a lean work in terms of orchestration. It also breathes a dignity that is most compelling. It is fairly unremittingly serious in both demeanour and in intensely controlled thematic workings. The intensity reaches its height in the ‘Molto adagio ma liberamente’ slow movement, a statement of real depth, and one that inspires Del Mar and his orchestra to great things. If the title of the finale sounds forbidding – ‘Tema con 7 variazioni e una Fuga’ – it is not all so (there is even a passage that trips along nicely until interrupted by darker shades). The closing pages are marked by a rugged determination. Of course, 1939 was the year that marked the beginning of the Second World War, and it is not difficult to read echoes of these events into the more intense passages of this symphony..

The Fourth Symphony opens with a feeling of peace (now, of course, quite removed from external events – it was written in 1942). The work is in three movements, although the extended Introduzione to the last movement is banded separately by Lyrita because of its length (4’50). Robert Layton talks of ‘serenity, a remarkable stillness and an inner repose’ and this just about sums it up. The music of the first movement seems to pulsate welcomingly. The Intermezzo second movement is pure delight (its marking is ‘Allegretto grazioso sempre delicato’), especially when played with as much affection as on this Lyrita recording. The clouds of the ‘Introduzione’ to the final movement are magnificently evocative here (the well-balanced recording helps, preserving the depth of the shadowy strings), while the movement proper (‘Allegro maestoso’) has a noble dignity (it is more immediately identifiable as ‘English’ than some music by this composer). It does, however, carry the inimitable stamp of Rubbra’s compelling harmonic language.

The Overture, Resurgam, was inspired by the bombing of Plymouth in March 1941. The Overture was written in 1975 on a commission from the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra to commemorate its centenary. The title comes from a word (Resurgam) inscribed on the tower of the church of St Andrew (the only part left standing after the bombing). Resurgam begins very quietly and delicately. Although only eight minutes long, it is very serious in its intense scoring and in its density of ideas (Rubbra also uses a more acidic language than in the Third Symphony, heard first on the disc). Finally, A Tribute, Op. 56 (originally entitled ‘Introduzione e danza alla fuga’) begins in the most tender of fashions. Del Mar’s balancing of orchestra textures is revelatory in the introduction, while the ‘danza alla fuga’ is fascinating. It begins rather stealthily, but never releases its dance origins. The tribute is actually to Ralph Vaughan Williams (in honour of that composer’s seventieth birthday), although there appears to be no direct musical allusion.

A fascinating disc, then. Rubbra’s music reveals more and more on repeated hearings – facile is the one thing it is not.

Colin Clarke

see Edmund Rubbra

The Lyrita catalogue


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