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The Lyrita Catalogue


Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986)
Symphony No. 6, Op. 80 (1953/4) [32:40]
Symphony No. 8, Op. 132, ‘Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin’ (1966-68) [24:55]
Soliloquy for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 57 (1947) [15:02]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Norman Del Mar (symphonies)
Rohan de Saram (cello); London Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Soliloquy).
© 1992. No further details available. ADD.

Experience Classicsonline

I have just one complaint about the wealth of reissues which have come forth from Lyrita since the rebirth of the label: many of them overturn what I had thought secure recommendations. When Rob Barnett wrote his Compact Biography of Rubbra for Musicweb in 2000, the only recordings of the symphonies available to him were the complete Richard Hickox series (full price) and a mid-price version by Hans-Hubert Schönzeler of the Tenth Symphony and other works, all recorded by Chandos. His article refers to the Lyrita recordings; some Lyrita CDs were appearing sporadically in limited editions, but it seemed unlikely then that the whole series would ever reappear.

I already owned that Schönzeler recording when I heard the Hickox series on Radio 3’s afternoon programme and was immediately convinced that this was about as good a set as was ever likely to appear – sensitive performances of under-rated music, very well recorded and superbly presented.

In recent weeks I have been investigating a number of Lyrita recordings which have made me change my mind. Their recordings of the first two Bax symphonies – SRCD.232 and SRCD.233 – see review – convinced me that these were the versions I had been looking for, then I tried Holbrooke’s The Birds of Rhiannon on SRCD.269 – see review – a piece and a recording which I now discover that I had been very wrong to have written off after hearing the LP version 30 years ago.

Now I turn to a well-filled CD of recordings of two Rubbra symphonies which are at least the equal of the Hickox, coupled with an equally fine account of the Invocation for cello and orchestra. I can’t pretend that CC’s review of this recording didn’t give me fair warning that these were versions to challenge Hickox – indeed, as he says in his review, the presence of Norman del Mar conducting the symphonies is almost a guarantee of high quality, as also is that of Rohan de Saram and Vernon Handley in the substantial filler.

Hickox’s version of No.6 is slightly more energetic in places, though his timings for whole movements are very similar to del Mar’s and honours overall are about equal. Rubbra is not the kind of composer that one falls for immediately – most will find that they have to persevere – but the Sixth is a good place to start and either performance could provide the ideal vehicle for persuading the hesitant. Try the slow movement, marked Canto (largo e sereno), wonderfully performed on Lyrita: visionary music with just a hint of menace or unbearable grief lurking at the edge of the serenity.

The Chandos recordings are, of course, 24-bit DDD, but there is nothing second-class about the ADD Lyrita sound. One reviewer has spoken of the refurbishment of these recordings as analogous to a veil being lifted, which is exactly right. For the few old enough to remember fibre 78 rpm needles, a better analogy might be that the LP sounded as if the needle needed sharpening, the CD like playing the music with one that has been sharpened. I’m not sure of the exact recording date – presumably the © 1992 on the website refers to the first CD release. I have some Lyrita CDs of William Alwyn which were issued in that year.

I listened to a download version of this CD from Though it’s only at 192kbps, rather than the preferable 320k at which many of their recordings are issued, I found the sound more than acceptable – the improvement over the original LPs is clearly apparent in this format. Younger, keener ears may prefer the CD – and those who find downloading an unnecessary nuisance will certainly go for that option – but I have yet to encounter any Lyrita recordings from eMusic with which I have had any problem.

I hate having to declare a draw – I realise that’s not a happy state of affairs when I’m supposed to be offering advice on what to buy – but there are so many excellent points in favour of both versions that I find it impossible to make a categorical recommendation. It’s about as difficult as choosing between The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen on their recordings of the same repertoire.

Though storage problems have compelled me to make a rule to keep only one version of any piece of music, I think I’ll be breaking that rule and keeping the Hickox series and obtaining the other Lyrita recordings of Rubbra.

Perhaps the couplings, which make it difficult to mix and match the Chandos and Lyrita versions, will decide the issue. I marginally prefer the coupling of the two symphonies and Invocation here to the Hickox coupling of Symphonies 2 and 6 (CHAN9481) and Symphonies 5 and 8 with Ode to the Queen (CHAN9714). These are two of Rubbra’s finest symphonies and I particularly like Invocation as the final item to round off the programme – an attractive work, not available from Hickox or, indeed, I believe, in any other version. For me, therefore, the Lyrita CD wins on penalties.

Is there any sense in which the Hickox recordings remain superior? Well, I do prefer the wonderful Chandos cover art, with reproductions of Samuel Palmer paintings of the landscape of a part of Kent only a few miles from my home in SE London. This was not the landscape which was Rubbra’s own inspiration, but the art-work is wonderful; the Lyrita cover is rather penny-plain in comparison. If you are looking for the whole set, Chandos’s 5-for-4 box will work out cheaper than the individual discs – in any case, if you are looking for completeness, Chandos is your only option. And I remain a very firm advocate of the Chandos/Hickox recording of the Latin Lyrics, etc. (CHAN9847) a Bargain of the Month which, though sadly deleted on CD remains available as a download from – see review.

Brian Wilson


see also review by Michael Cookson





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