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John JOUBERT (b. 1927)
String Quartet No.2 Op.91 (1977)a [24:13]
Landscapes Op.129 (1992)b [22:13]
Piano Trio Op.113 (1986)c [30:43]
Lyric Fantasy Op.144 (2000)d [8:58]
Piano Sonata No.1 Op.24 (1957)e [14:05]
Piano Sonata No.2 Op.71 (1972)e [24:46]
Piano Sonata No.3 Op.157 (2006)e [23:16]
Brodsky Quarteta; Patricia Rozario (soprano)b; David Chadwick (violin)bc; Ann Joubert (cello)bc; Mark Bebbington (piano)bcd; John McCabe (piano)e
rec. St. Mary’s Church, Walthamstow, February 2006 (String Quartet No.2) and Barber Institute, Birmingham, July and August 2006 (other works)
SOMM SOMMCD 060-2 [77:20 + 71:06]



The works represented here span almost fifty years of Joubert’s composing life and provide both a good survey of his varied output for smaller forces and a fine opportunity to appreciate his progress over the years (Joubert website). However, what comes clearly through is a remarkable stylistic consistency yet Joubert’s consummate craftsmanship enables him to adapt his chosen idiom to a range of expressive aims. This can be heard in the recent BMS release with some of his choral music, and is much in evidence in this release too. His music may safely be described as traditional 20th century without being reactionary. This is traditional, superbly crafted music that nevertheless has many unexpected harmonic and rhythmical twists.
 
The first disc, which features chamber music, opens with the substantial String Quartet No.2 Op.91 completed in 1977. The first movement opens with a splendid theme that soon develops into an often animated dialogue full of contrasting arguments that eventually end rather abruptly. This is followed by a nervous Scherzo that seems thematically related to the first movement. The slow movement, the emotional core of the entire work, develops some of the earlier ideas as well as the well-known DSCH melodic cell, in homage to Shostakovich, one of Joubert’s favourite composers, who died in 1975. The deeply moving movement contains some of his finest ever music. The dance-like, extrovert Finale eventually dispels much of the accumulated tension.
 
Landscapes Op.129 is a song-cycle for soprano and piano trio setting poems by various writers that all have to do with the impact of man on the environment. The composer describes it as “a ‘green’ festival”, and all five poems deal with man’s mostly negative impact on Nature, be it through war destruction or unrestricted urbanisation: Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop (an abandoned country railway station), which incidentally has also been set by Anthony Payne some years ago, Stephen Spender’s The Pylons (“Now over these small hills they have built concrete/That trails black wire...”), F.C. Lucas’s Beleaguered Cities, a fierce protest against unrestricted building on land, de la Mare’s The Corner Stone (ruins are much alive long after they have tumbled down) and Thomas Hardy’s In Time of “The Breaking of Nations” (life simply has to go on, even after war’s monstrosities). The music vividly reflects the various moods suggested by the words. A beautiful work of which the composer admits to being very fond.
 
The Piano Trio Op.113 is a quite substantial work in three movements. The first Aria lives up to its title, which however does not mean that it is untroubled. There are some disquieting episodes that belie any suggestion of easy-going, lyrical outpouring. The second movement Sonata actually functions as a nervous, animated Scherzo with some contrasting, melodic episodes that eventually combine in the final stages of a movement that drifts away almost unnoticed. The third movement is a large-scale Passacaglia, a form favoured by Joubert as well as by Britten and Shostakovich, built on a rather stark ground. The ensuing variations unfold at a generally moderate tempo slowly building-up to a massive climax followed by an appeased epilogue.
 
The second disc is entirely devoted to some of Joubert’s piano music: the three piano sonatas and the recent Lyric Fantasy Op.144. I was delighted to be able to hear again the Sonata No.1 in One Movement Op.24 (the earliest work in this selection), that I first heard several years ago, in 1996 or 1997, I think, played by John McCabe during a BMS recital at the Royal College of Music. This is a compact work, roughly in arch-form, that opens hesitantly “with an effortfully rising scale” followed by a chorale-like episode abruptly disrupted by the central, energetic tarantella. This, in turn, leads to a varied restatement of the chorale, combining the rising scale from the opening and echoes of the tarantella. The coda is permeated by the rising scale and veiled allusions to the chorale.
 
The Sonata No.2 Op.71 is a considerably more ambitious work. Its three movements are laid-out in roughly the same pattern as those of the Piano Trio. The first movement “opens with enchanted, fairy-tale filigree”. The music soon gets rather more animated while preserving contrasting episodes for variety’s sake, before returning to the pensive mood of the opening. The second movement is another tarantella Scherzo, as in the central section of the First Piano Sonata, albeit somewhat more developed. The final movement is another weighty, imposing Passacaglia ending with softly chiming chords.
 
“ I didn’t want it to be a display like a Liszt operatic fantasy”. In fact, in the Lyric Fantasy Op.144 on themes from the opera Jane Eyre, the emphasis is rather on lyricism than on bravura display, so that the whole work is like an often lyrical, song-like rhapsody of great charm.
 
The Piano Sonata No.3 Op.157 completed as recently as 2006 is the most recent work here, and another large-scale piece. The movements are laid-out in the fairly traditional fast-slow-fast pattern, actually with two concise outer movements framing a substantial slow movement roughly in ABA form. The Third Piano Sonata was commissioned to mark the 60th anniversary of the Weymouth Music Club, which drew the composer back to Thomas Hardy, “which gave the music its emotional background”. Furthermore, the third movement Alla marcia is partly drawn from Joubert’s cantata South of the Line (1985) setting poems by Hardy. The music is neither descriptive nor programmatic; but it is certainly imbued with the moods suggested by these poems written at the time of the Boer War. The first movement opens with a fiercely declamatory gesture, and a fierce mood dominates throughout the movement, again with contrasting episodes. The outer sections of the slow movement frame a Scherzo episode - one again thinks of the tarantella in the First Piano Sonata - whereas the final movement in resolute march tempo brings this substantial work to a strongly affirmative conclusion.
 
These attractive and often compelling works receive excellent performances from all concerned. They do full justice to this most distinguished composer’s superbly crafted music. The recording is excellent, too, warm and natural. The somewhat sketchy insert notes by Christopher Morley, are based on interviews with the composer from which I have generously quoted, could have told you more about the music. I write this just for the sake of grumbling a bit about an otherwise superb release.
 
I have always felt that Joubert was an unjustly neglected composer whose music deserved more attention. Now, this generously filled release and the BMS disc with some choral music (BMS102CDH) and a slightly earlier BMS disc with some orchestral music (BMS419CD), fill a considerable gap in this composer’s current discography. They amply demonstrate the breadth of Joubert’s achievement as well as the human warmth and utter sincerity of his music. His music is – at long last – being given its due. More please.
 
Hubert Culot

 



 


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