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John JOUBERT (b. 1927)
Song-cycles and chamber music

The Hour Hand for soprano and recorder op. 101 (1982) [6:24]
Shropshire Hills for high voice and piano op. 155 (2003) [10:28]
Improvisation for recorder and piano op. 120 (1988) [6:07]
Kontakion for cello and piano op. 69 (1971) [13:23]
The Rose is Shaken in the Wind for soprano and recorder op. 137 (2001) [6:07]
Six Poems by Emily Brontë for soprano and piano op. 63 (1965?) [21:23]
Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano); John Turner (recorder); Richard Tunnicliffe (cello); John McCabe (piano)
rec. Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, Manchester University, 18-19 December 2006. DDD
first recordings made in presence of composer

Sound Sample
Ending of Oracle
Sound samples are removed after two months

With Toccata CDs you are guaranteed something unusual, new to disc or challenging. Adventure is the key. To this the company couple good documentation, in this case provided by the composer.

Joubert was born in South Africa but in 1946 came to London to study at the Royal Academy. He has been extraordinarily productive and with this disc - one of several issued to mark Joubert's eightieth birthday - we are introduced to his songs and some of the chamber music. Of the six works featured three involve John Turner, the recorder virtuoso, champion of the instrument and single-handed commissioner of many British works.

The little cycle The Hour Hand sets words by Edward Lowbury – poetry well worth searching out - in music that chimes with woodnotes tapped directly into the British pastoral heritage. There is a quietness about this music - supernal moods and a Howellsian witchery.

The three songs making up Shropshire Hills are to words by Joubert's accustomed collaborator, Stephen Tunnicliffe. These songs are more dramatic-operatic than the first cycle. Tunnicliffe, like Housman, feels the hand of previous ancient generations and these ‘voices’ shiver and shudder in Joubert's music. That said, the composer finds a curving horizon's warmth in the final song Clun Forest. These are exceptionally fine songs and I wonder if Joubert has thought of a version with orchestra. Lesley-Jane Rogers who I should have mentioned earlier is intelligent, responsive to variety of dynamic and pleasingly without wobbling vibrato.

Improvisation was written as tribute to Joubert's teacher, Howard Ferguson and is based on material from pieces Joubert was writing during his studies with Ferguson in 1947-50. The music bespeaks a certain loneliness but also a romantic drama redolent of Ferguson's piano sonata.

Kontakion is the traditional Russian chant for the dead. Its outline lodged in the composer's mind when it was played during WWII school church services to mark the tragic deaths of various ex-pupils. It's a single continuous span with a keening viola edge and a not altogether surprising subtext of outrage. This is set off by the happiness of the episode from 3:34 onwards which resolves into a crystalline dream. The general set of this piece recalls Rubbra’s passion and expressive potency.

The Rose is Shaken in the Wood comprises four songs. While The Hour Hand uses only treble recorder this cycle deploys treble, bass and sopranino instruments. The poems are by the New Zealand poet, Ruth Dallas. Apart from the jaw-tangling The Gardener's Song with its sopranino ornithological piping these songs radiate a sombre haunting beauty. Here we find a concern for mortality and the passing of all things apart from the richness that some will pass on to future generations.

The Six Bronte Songs are from the 1960s and again return to Joubert's accustomed landscapes of the mind; nature poetry is not his prime concern. This cycle describes an arc via desolation, bereavement, death to consolation. The steady symphonic pulse in the centre of Oracle is impressively done and the operatic luminosity of the final three lines of the last verse is memorable. After the desolation in Caged Bird comes the defiance of Immortality. However that last song sounds rather like a hoped for desperate consummation rather than a grand blaze of confidence. I wondered whether the climax had actually been achieved in Oracle. There is however no doubting the power of this last song which certainly has an air of high finality about it.

As expected, this majestically confident collection is matched by a booklet that includes the complete texts.

This is a crucial disc in the advocacy and appreciation of Joubert's music. It is however essential that we get to hear the Herefordshire Chronicles and The Raising of Lazarus, the symphonies, the opera Under Western Eyes and the concertos.

Rob Barnett

Toccata Catalogue


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