If any disc can confirm
the stature of Edmund Rubbra as symphonist,
this is it. The sturdy elementalism
of the Symphony No. 2 reveals quite
staggering confidence for a composer
still in his mid-thirties. Lines may
be long and have a sense of aching romanticism
about them, but they are subsumed under
a determined sense of onward momentum.
Neither is the Scherzo, placed second,
a playful frolic. Punchy and determined,
its insatiable rhythmic element coupled
with some decidedly rugged brass writing
make for a fairly oppressive ride. The
‘tranquillo’ part of the Adagio’s marking
does not extend throughout the entire
movement (the longest, at 1’54), leading
to a glaring, white-light climax before
the music recedes once more to peace.
Beginning more like a Scherzo, the mercurial
finale (a Rondo marked ‘Allegretto amabile’)
is a ‘Rubbra Romp’ of the first order,
eminently approachable and guaranteed
to bring a smile to the most hardened
of faces. The pounding close positively
glows in Rubbra’s vibrant orchestration.
The Seventh Symphony
dates from full twenty years later.
Rubbra’s way with his materials tends
more towards the fragmentary and the
whole impression is that his music has
moved to deeper regions. The uneasy
harmonies of the very opening strive
for resolution, and the entrance of
slow-moving strings implies this will
be the case – but the voice-leading
shifts uncomfortably. An immense power
lies beneath this Lento e molto espressivo
and infiltrates the uneasy Allegro moderato.
The ‘Vivace e leggiero’
poses a challenge to any orchestra.
Mercurial, parts of it are like an Englishman’s
Midsummer Night’s Dream – Rubbra
displays an enviable compositional facility.
The movement’s climax is of a scorching
A granitic Passacaglia
and Fugue provides the finale. The Passacaglia
looms with brooding intensity, scotching
each and every attempt to blossom into
some more comfortable form of lyricism.
This is a magnificent, quarter-hour
long movement that is emotionally draining
for the listener.
Boult is the perfect
interpreter of this music, drawing a
committed response from the LPO and
never allowing the full textures to
become saturated. The Fugue begins peacefully
The joyous Festival
Overture acts as a vital, fresh
interlude between the two symphonies.
Representing Rubbra in unbuttoned mode,
Vernon Handley leads a robust, ruddy
performance – the only caveat being
that the ending sounds somehow unprepared.
With a healthy playing
time of over 77 minutes, this is a major
issue. All lovers of Rubbra’s music
should jump at the chance of picking
up a copy.