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Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Symphonies: No. 6, Op. 80 (1953/4) [32’40]; No. 8, Op. 132, ‘Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin’ (1966-68) [24’55]. Soliloquy for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 57 (1947) [15’02].
Rohan de Saram (cello)
London Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Soliloquy).
Philharmonia Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
No recording details given ADD


Norman Del Mar’s accounts of two of Rubbra’s greatest symphonies make this disc self-recommending to all admirers of this under-rated composer. Del Mar seems to have a natural understanding of Rubbra’s intense forms of expression – and he inspires the Philharmonia to reveal these scores in the best possible light.

Rubbra’s Sixth Symphony was a Royal Philharmonic Society commission and first performed in the Royal Festival Hall in November 1954. The 17-bar introduction has a very English intensity. The performance is beautifully shaded by Del Mar following the music’s contours like a shadow. The Allegretto, despite the associations of its tempo indication, brings with it an underlying seriousness. It is interesting to track how some of the musical material seems to attempt to make a move towards frivolity, yet it never becomes pure fun.

The second movement is preceded in the score by a quotation from a poem by Leopardi (1798-1837): ‘Always was this lonely hill dear to me/And this hedge which shuts out/So much of the distant horizon’. The landscape invoked for Rubbra was in fact that outside his cottage in the Chilterns – wherever the inspiration lies geographically, there is no doubting that this movement surely represents one of Rubbra’s finest statements. Rubbra can invoke stasis in a miraculous way (and listen to the lovely oboe solo also), leading to a climax of pure granite. The ending of this ‘Canto’ (as it is called) is truly beautiful.

More immediately absorbing, possibly, is the Vivace impetuoso third movement with its shifting, serious gait. Rubbra included a celesta and xylophone for the first time in a Symphony here (they recur in the Eighth). The Poco andante introduction to the finale revisits the spirituality of the slow movement before Rubbra’s cumulative energy moves the piece towards an ending of dignified grandeur. All this is realised in glowing terms by the Philharmonia and in simply stunning sound.

The Eighth Symphony is subtitled ‘Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin’. A decade-long gap separates the Eighth from its predecessor, a time-span in which the composer moved towards an awareness of ‘the dramatic and expressive values inherent in intervals as such, and in the new symphony the play of interval against interval, rather than key against key, provides the motivating force behind the argument’ (the composer, from a BBC broadcast of January 1971). The symphony bears religious leanings, most obviously in its subtitle. This refers to the visionary French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin; ( provides an introduction). This symphony is a supremely impressive achievement. Set in only three movements, the flowing, dream-like first (marked simply, ‘Moderato’) leads to an ‘Allegretto con brio’. Adrian Yardley’s exemplary booklet note refers to this as ‘one of Rubbra’s most dance-like creations’, and how right he is. The prevailing impression is one of delicacy that flares up from time to time. The quasi-Sibelian desolation of the finale is a sustained lyric outpouring that is really quite draining to experience – the silvery colour of the celesta at the end is a touch of pure genius.

The Soliloquy for cello and a small orchestra of strings, two horns and timpani (written for William Pleeth, a chamber music partner of the composer’s) is the earliest work on this disc. The cellist Rohan de Saram is a most persuasive advocate of the work’s finely-wrought harmonies. The impression is of a gradually evolving slow processional. It is the perfect ending for a most impressive disc.

Colin Clarke

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