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Contact: Opus One Box 604, Greenville, Maine 04441


John Donald ROBB (1892-1989)
Symphony No.1 (c.1946) [30.47]
Viola Concerto Op.24 (1953) [21.08]
Dariusz Korcz (viola)
National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/David Oberg
No recording details
OPUS ONE 183 [51.50]



Opus One has a distinctive job to do to promote its kind of music so don’t be alarmed by the discs. They come in a card slipcase with notes on a rather basic booklet which sometimes sticks itself (and text) to the plastic sheath that holds them. This is a minor inconvenience and one should remember that the music is the thing.

John Donald Robb was born in 1892 and lived a very long life, dying only in 1989. He was a lawyer – he practised international law in New York – but had a parallel interest in music and studied with composers stretching from oratorio meister Horatio Parker to Darius Milhaud – and taking in Hindemith, Nadia Boulanger and Roy Harris as well. Quite a line-up of teachers. He was also to teach music in New Mexico, founded an orchestra and conducted it, made extensive ethnomusicological field trips and did quite some composing.

The Symphony is written in three movements and dates from around the end of the Second World War. The second movement, Elegy for Our Dead, has often been performed independently of the symphony and obviously serves as a memorial. Robb writes in an idiom somewhere between Vaughan Williams and Bartók. The string writing is sometimes reminiscent of the former and the folk sections of the latter, though the ethos, at least in the first movement is rather light-hearted in a broadly concerto grosso kind of way. The keening solo cello of the second movement and string consolation represents something altogether deeper, especially with its hints of the Barber Adagio.  The finale’s folk variations, on a theme that sounds quite adjacent to When Jonny Comes Marching Home Again, are again couched in a VW string cantilevered image and they’re notably genial, albeit with a quiescent and affirmative close.

The companion work, the 1953 Viola Concerto, is at once a more adventurous and much less successful work. Based on Mexican folk music – Robb spent many years in New Mexico – it takes themes native to the area. The dance drama does however sound subdued and there’s little really especially distinctive about the writing. The Mexicana is also rather drably done. True, there are some colourful local accents in the finale, which is the most distinctive of the three movements (and has a good throwaway ending) but too much of this concerto – it’s really more a series of sketches than a concerto – meanders.

The Polish orchestra and viola soloist Dariusz Korcz all make a good enough showing under David Oberg. I wondered initially whether a lack of sonic immediacy may have blunted the concerto’s impact but I think not – it’s the work. This is one for those piqued by obscure Americans who cleave attractively to traditional models - and who might go easier on the Viola Concerto than I.

Jonathan Woolf


Contact: Opus One Box 604, Greenville, Maine 04441




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