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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]


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.

Dennis Day

see also Reviews by Colin Clarke and others


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