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Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Improvisation for violin and orchestra op. 89 (1956) [12:25]
Improvisations on Virginal Pieces by Giles Farnaby op. 50 (Farnaby's Conceit; His Dreame; His Humour; Loth to Depart; Tell me, Daphne) (1939) [13:11]
Violin Concerto op. 103 (1960) [30:19]
Krysia Osostowicz (violin)
Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
rec. 25-26 May 2004, Ulster Hall, Belfast. DDD
NAXOS 8.557591 [57:04]
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Rubbra has rather a severe reputation and, make no mistake, there is some justification for this. That justification is down to elements quite different however from those establishing the severity of serious contemporaries such as Alan Bush and Alan Rawsthorne. While Rubbra found little musical attraction in frivolity yet he joys in fly-away delight and there is of course towering grandeur and majesty in these pages.

The disc opens with the violin Improvisation in which Osostowicz is the passionate pilgrim. The bewitching and sweetly insinuating solo line leads us through a dark forest. Without producing a clearly delineated melody the effect remains melodic rising to passionate statement and falling back to the mesmerising yet unassertive soliloquising that opened this single movement work. In emotional schema the piece parallels an even more impressive work - the nocturnal and darkly rhapsodic Soliloquy for cello and orchestra of which we now have recordings by Dupré (Cello Classics), Rohan de Saram (Lyrita) and best of all, though the most difficult to find, Raphael Sommer on BBC Radio Classics.

This is the first recording of the Improvisation on CD although there was a Louisville LP in which Paul Kling was the soloist. That is a significant recording because the artists commissioned the work. There is some hope that this recording will reappear on Matt Walters' First Edition label. Would that someone had recorded Andrew Watkinson’s fine 1981 broadcast with the BBC Concerto Orchestra conducted by Richard Hickox.

As an entr'acte of sorts we have the Farnaby Improvisations. I confess this is not the sort of Rubbra I favour. There is about it too much of pressed flowers and a precious contrived ‘olde worlde’ flavour. However in His Dreame Rubbra probes deeper while the jackanapes jollity of His Humour carries the seeds of the playful ring-dance collana musicale we hear in the concertos for viola and piano.

The Farnaby resurrections have been recorded before and can be heard,not as well recorded, and not quite as well pointed as here. The first CD recording was by Hans-Hubert Schönzeler with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta in 1976 (first issued on LP). Its rather miserly CD incarnation comes on Chandos CHAN 6599 playing for 39:34. There the ‘short commons’ coupling - perfectly adequate for LP of course - was A Tribute and the Tenth Symphony.

The Violin Concerto has the same dark concentration as the Improvisation. Hearing the two side by side, the Improvisation sounds like a concerto movement - Rubbra limbering up for the concerto that he was to write four years later. It has become a commonplace but the Violin Concerto has little or no surface glamour and the little burst of xylophone in the finale is all the more vibrant for its surprising presence. Again the violin solo is in what seems almost personal communion tracking through both troubled and untroubled inscapes. The recording is generously clear and has notable detailing and impact. This can be heard in the clear differentiation of the gruffly threatening brass at the end of the first movement.

The Violin Concerto was premiered in 1960 by Endré Wolf with the BBCSO conducted by Rudolf Schwarz.

There are two competing versions of the Violin Concerto although both have been deleted for almost a decade now. The first on the scene was on Unicorn played by Carl Pini with David Measham conducting the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (DKP(CD)9056) and recorded on 6 March 1985. The coupling was the Ireland Piano Concerto played by Geoffrey Tozer who was later to make his mark with Chandos's Medtner series.

In 1994 came the short-lived Conifer CDCF225 which coupled the concertos for violin and viola. The soloist was the then little known Tasmin Little and the conductor was Vernon Handley with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

While there is little to choose between the timings of these three versions in the final passionate flight of the allegro giocoso (5:12 Osostowicz; 5:13 Pini; 4:54 Little) the monolithic first movement differs widely: 14:36 Osostowicz; 12:38 Pini; 13:28 Little. The sense of momentum and movement is inspirational in the Pini but his instrument sounds noticeably nasal and vinegary by comparison with that of Osostowicz. Handley and Little on Unicorn are also propulsive and project the music strongly. Little's tone is similar to that of Osostowicz although Osostowicz uses a shading of vibrato.

This Naxos disc is a fine Rubbra coupling - especially important to those exploring Rubbra. It's at bargain price and introduces the passionate Improvisation. In an ideal world I would prefer the Tasmin Little; the forwardness and urgent projection of Little and Handley are irresistible. However it's all rather academic since neither the Conifer nor the Unicorn are currently available.

This is therefore a logical, fine and inexpensive Rubbra coupling that will strongly reward the serious listener.

Rob Barnett




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