We are in the debt
to this enterprising company for presenting
to us so much British chamber and vocal
music from the 20th century that were
otherwise which in danger of sinking
without a trace. Those of us who particularly
love the Rubbra’s music will be especially
delighted that this disc the sixth that
Dutton have devoted to his works.
Britten and Rubbra:
these two giants of 20th century British
music have several things in common.
Most importantly they believed in being
'useful' as composers and musicians.
That means writing effectively for amateurs
and/or writing for unusual instruments.
Back in the 1940s Carl
Dolmetsch and the Dolmetsch family were
building up the repertory for the recorder.
They edited old music certainly and
had their editions published for amateur
ensembles. They also commissioned many
works from a wide variety of composers
right into the 1970s. Rubbra was a chief
beneficiary of their policy through
which he found a real love of the recorder
and had a strong interest in mediaeval
and renaissance music. Britten was another
such. The booklet contains a charming
photo of Britten and Pears (c.1955)
playing on a boat with a recorder consort
and Imogen Holst.
Some of these Rubbra
works have been recorded before and
I shall briefly refer to these alternatives.
Other works have not. These include
a late work 'Fantasia on a Chord' Op
154, the 'Air and Variations' for Pipes
played here very successfully by 'The
Flautadors' recorder consort, and 'Notturno',
also for recorder consort.
But to start at the
beginning. Rubbra's first work was the
'Meditazione on 'Coeurs désolée'
Op 67 using a song by Josquin des Pres,
(1445-1521) written for Carl Dometsch
and Joseph Saxby. It created quite an
impression when it first appeared. It
has been recorded by many times. You
may especially remember David Munrow's
version. A BMS CD with Ross Winter accompanied
by Andrew Ball (BMS 425 'The Dolmetsch
Legacy) is a good benchmark. Winter
has piano accompaniment and is more
expressive than Catherine Fleming. Obviously
the greater sustaining ability of the
piano allows Winter to be a little slower.
I do prefer this approach. Nevertheless
Rubbra knew what he was doing with the
harpsichord and it is good to hear it
Rubbra's next work
was the 'Passacaglia on 'Plusieurs Regrets'
also by Josquin. It is a piece I have
always preferred having played it on
the flute with organ, and one set for
a higher recorder grade. I was heartened
to read, in the excellent booklet notes
by Andrew Mayes, that Rubbra himself
thought that it was even better than
the earlier one. It uses the first twelve
bars of the Josquin and repeats it as
a ground 15 times. I find it a glorious
piece and here I prefer the greater
drive given to it by Ian Wilson.
Thinking of works for
solo recorder with harpsichord and gamba
(or cello), Ian Wilson also plays the
'Fantasia on a Chord' written in the
late 1970s. It is little known. The
chord itself, probably bi-tonal, is
difficult to analyse but has a typical
Rubbran mystery about it. The work is
a typical example of his controlled
improvisation in the style of the Indian
raga players he so much admired. Here
the chord is explored and turned inside
out, ruminated upon. My disappointment
with the piece is that more than half
of it is straight repeated - an unusual
thing for the composer to do.
The 'Cantata Pastoral'
Op. 92 is a rare piece of Rubbra in
that it actually sounds Oriental
(rather like the Piano Concerto's 1st
movement). It is a seven minute setting
of three very early nature poems ending,
surprisingly, with one by St.Augustine.
Patricia Rozario is the soloist in this
unique combination of soprano (actually
Rubbra asks just for high voice), harpsichord,
recorder and gamba. Actually I don't
find the quality of this singer’s voice
quite right for this music. But neither
do I particularly warm to the light
tenor of Tony Boute on an Albany disc
which appeared in 1992 (TROY 041). Perhaps
this piece awaits its ideal recorded
On that same Albany
CD you will also find the 'Fantasy on
a theme of by Machaut' (1300-1377) with
the flute substituted for a recorder.
The recorder is preferable however as
the thick and expressive string textures
need something to cut through them cleanly.
It is extraordinary to hear immediately
before it on this new disc the simple
three-part original. Yo my ears Rubbra
transforms it into a romantic miasma
of sound redolent of the English landscape.
The original is almost lost in the complex
polyphony. It has been suggested that
this work could act as the centre part
of a triptych with the two Josquin pieces
flanking. I tried it out by programming
the CD and I must say that it was most
The Opus 128 Sonatina
is Rubbra's longest work in this context.
It falls into three movements, the third
using another early melody this time
by the 16th Century Spaniard Juan Vasquez,
in its last movement. Again Dutton helpfully
let us hear the original, played by
the recorder consort this time after
the Sonatina. This work was also recorded
by Ross Winter with piano, but, especially
in the piled up left-hand dissonances
in the 1st subject's development section,
it is clear that the harpsichord with
its extra bite is not only preferable
but necessary. This is clearly what
Rubbra wanted as this section marks
off a contrast from the lyrical opening
of the exposition. In this piece especially
I prefer the more exact tuning of Ian
The First Study Pieces
amount to six 'feathers' for treble
recorder one might say. These are all
over in three minutes and here are accompanied
by the harpsichord. Although they use
few actual pitches the rhythms are trickier
than might be expected of very young
players. This might explain why they
are little known. Catherine Fleming
gives them every possible chance to
The Britten works show
the great man at ease on summer afternoons
writing miniatures for friends. They
are short, fleeting but in the case
of the un-opused 'Alpine Suite' a really
useful contribution to the repertoire.
It's good to have Rubbra's
'Introduction, aria and fugue' played
here by solo harpsichord as intended.
However it comes across as a charmless
and somewhat scrappy piece in this rather
forced performance which clips a minute
off a much more expressive and sensitive
one played by Michael Dussek on the
piano (Dutton Labs CDLX 7112).
It is especially good
to hear the recorder consort works on
this CD. They are rare and beautifully
played. The recording likewise is excellent.
I heartily recommend this fascinating