When listening to
the music of Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) it is increasingly difficult
to understand why this fine English composer is not heard more
frequently and has been, so far, under-recorded. He has been
accused, wrongly I feel, that his music is often too thickly
scored. My own opinion is that here we have a composer who knows
what he wants – and how to achieve it.
Listening to the
very opening of Rubbra’s Improvisation for violin and
orchestra Op. 89, one can hear straight away the dark mood and
be reminded of the Nocturne from Shostakovich’s First
Violin Concerto. But the music is firmly Rubbra’s own, scored
in his own inimitable way. There is a searching, yearning passion
about this music and one leaves it feeling soothed and yet,
wanting more. Some listeners only want happy, joyful, beautiful
music. Some rather more discerning listeners often wish the
darkness, or sadness of their own feelings of the day – or whenever
– to be echoed in music. Even in the rapid sections of this
wonderfully astringent piece the overall mood is not dispelled.
Yet after having heard all of it - and the inclination may
well be to listen to it straight away again before – or without
– hearing the rest of the disc - one can at last feel at peace.
The second work
on the disc is Improvisations on Virginal Pieces by Giles
Farnaby Op. 50. This is one of those delightful suites of
‘old wine in new bottles’. For this listener, though he loves
old (red) wine, in music he so often prefers the stuff in new
bottles. Short, jolly pieces, charmingly, often amusingly written
and always deftly scored. No real depth required here, just
sip your own choice of liquid and enjoy it as it passes away
about fourteen minutes.
The main work -
in spite of the very real pull of Op. 89 - is the Violin Concerto
Op. 103 which was written in 1959, three years after the Improvisation.
This piece is an absolute denial to those who claim his orchestrations
are thick and unwieldy; this can be said of all the pieces on
this disc. Written in a classical style the Concerto is in three
movements: fast-slow-fast. It is given a most admirable performance
by Osostowicz, the Ulster Orchestra and its principal guest
conductor, Takuo Yuasa. The recording is admirably clear with
the soloist placed in a very realistic balance.
The first movement
is the most substantial, lasting very nearly a quarter of an
hour. At once, we are in dark territory with a strongly pulsating
theme which, when learnt by the listener is very rewarding.
The soloist enters after about a minute with her own counter-melody
… how rich and beautiful it all is. This music is totally typical
of its composer – full of his individual ‘soundprints’. A sense
of urgency pervades all and there is always a certain amount
of excitement. It is, in fact, rather similar to the Fifth Symphony
of 1947. At almost the very end of the long first movement,
the Dies Irae theme is announced – how menacing that
always sounds, cropping up all over the place, with all sorts
of composers. With the opening of the slow movement, entitled
Poema, we are back in the pulling of the heart region
of Op. 89 along with the deepening of the soul. This is truly
sad, beautiful music of great depth (not for the superficial
this) and the soloist comes in with a soaring lament of great
beauty. The violin’s theme is then taken up by the orchestra
with various solos entering effectively. Finally, an Allegro
giocoso with a tinge once more of old wine about it. Yet
the key still sounds modal, if not minor. However, I suppose
it is giocoso (jocular, playful) of a sort.
Rubbra’s music isn’t
like anyone else’s and influences aren’t at all obvious. This
is a new, rare and highly individual voice. I urge you to listen
to it as soon as you are able – especially now that we have
this wonderful recording and performance(s). At any price this
disc is a must – at this price it would be a sin to miss it.
see also Reviews
by Colin Clarke and others