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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 (1938-39) [14:11]
Violin Concerto (1959) [30:29]
Krysia Osostowicz, violin
Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
rec. Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 25-26 May 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557591 [57:04]

This is an extremely attractive proposition. In recent years Krysia Osostowicz has made her credentials abundantly clear as a thoughtful, expressive and understanding exponent of Rubbra’s violin works. This was certainly the case with the sonatas and is no less the case with her successful delineation of the Violin Concerto. It’s quite a tricky work to characterise and is perhaps less immediately appealing than the Viola Concerto, a work that I hope Naxos will get around to – let’s hear Lawrence Power do it.

For now Osostowicz has the field to herself. The Pini and the Little recordings (the latter coupled with Golani’s fine recording of the Viola Concerto) have both been long deleted. She takes a decidedly more measured view than either, yet allowing the lines to unfold with elasticity and with a sure sense of direction. It’s moot whether the greater concision of the older recordings is more apt for this work but one can certainly say that Osostowicz has a consistent view of the concerto. She has laid down a broadcast recording, with the BBC Scottish Orchestra and Nicholas Kok, that is perfectly consonant with this commercial recording.

In the Improvisation she locates the sweet bleakness that runs through the opening measures, the lyricism and the eruptive material as well. And Yuasa activates some finely chattering woodwinds and draws out the angularity of the writing with precision, allowing the beneficence at the end to emerge in all its glory. So too do they do justice to the Concerto. They respond, as they must, to that organic sense of direction that runs throughout Rubbra’s muse, and Yuasa does well to point up the contrastive saturnine depths and the responding treble air and clear, songful grace of the solo line.

There’s quite an elastic sense of the lyrical here, certainly in comparison with the two previous commercial recordings, fine and silvery tone from the soloist whose rapid trill and dexterity lend a colourful patina to the solo part. There’s a good first movement cadenza and generally not so gaunt a profile as the work sometimes receives – so for example in the central movement the string mass, flute and other wind solos and the mysterioso high lying solo line are all characterised with great sensibility. The Prokofiev touches in the finale and the general definition are attractive features of this performance as are the unstoppable running orchestral figures and the excitingly throwaway percussion at the end. This is a commanding statement from an artist fully in tune with her material and with Rubbra’s way of writing for it. She also has the chamber musician’s sensibility to pay attention to the orchestral contribution and respond accordingly. Others may prefer a tighter view all round, such as Pini (especially) and Little (his superior in matters of tone) bring but until they’re restored to the catalogue (and even if they were) this would still remain a strong contender.

As a delightful pendant, though it’s programmed between the two-concertante works, we have the Farnaby Improvisations, five rollickingly attractive and light-hearted pieces, genial, well pointed and tuneful. These have been recorded before but these performances are delightful.

Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Rob Barnett, Kevin Sutton (November recording of the Month) and Gary Higginson

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