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John JOUBERT (b. 1927) Symphony No. 1 op. 20 (1955) [31:17]
William MATHIAS (1934-1992) Symphony No.1 Op.31 (1966) [30:45]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Joubert); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves (Mathias)
rec. Bishopsgate Institute, London, 15-16 January 1969, ADD (Mathias); March 1995, Watford Town Hall, DDD (Joubert)
Mathias originally issued on Pye Virtuoso LP TPLS13023; Joubert originally issued as Lyrita single CD SRCD.322
LYRITA SRCD.340 [62:02]

Experience Classicsonline


 
In 2007 Lyrita issued this recording of the Joubert First Symphony in splendid isolation on a CD single (review review). I had not expected it to reappear only three years later coupled with a Mathias reissue rescued from the mildew of the old Pye catalogue. That LP added to the Mathias, as travelling companion, a recording of Daniel Jones’ Sixth Symphony – now reissued on Lyrita SRCD326 and generously coupled with Jones’s Symphony No. 9 and The Country Beyond the Stars.
 
Even in South Africa Joubert came into contact with English inspirational voices. His musical tutors included W.H. Bell whose Fourth Symphony has been recorded by Marco Polo and whose Viola Concerto Rosa Mystica has in the last few years become available on Dutton. Joubert’s First Symphony was commissioned by the Hull Philharmonic who premiered it in 1955 with Vilem Tauský. This is not a suite masquerading as a symphony. It has a real seriousness of utterance and the rhythmic elasticity of the first movement seems always set for tempestuous conflict. If Britten is there in the mix, so too are the symphonies of Arnell and Alwyn. The third movement appears to draw strength from the same flaming rage that provided an inspirational wellspring for Stanley Bate’s Third Symphony. The symphony ultimately earths itself in the exultation heard in its last five minutes.
 
While the Joubert is unique in the catalogue the Mathias has doughty competition. It comes in the shape of Nimbus’s own refined and vibrant 1990 recordings of the first two of Mathias’s three symphonies with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra/William Mathias on Nimbus NI 5260. The ex-Pye tape, of late-1960s vintage is the work’s premiere recording. It’s not superior in audio terms to the Nimbus except in its constantly upfront immediacy. The recording is of a constant front-to-back depth with instrumental details not rendered in the refined way we hear in more modern recordings. It is within the Decca FFRR philosophy - very exciting and every strand forward and gripping. Groves and the RPO – not his accustomed RLPO with whom for years he collaborated in their home city in the exciting Musica Viva series – give the work total commitment in full flood. The furious violins glare somewhat in this forty-plus year old recording and the final crash betrays the recording’s age. That said, this is a totally valid and powerfully enjoyable recording. As the composer wrote: a work of energy, colour and affirmation. There you have it: if you appreciate the dynamism of say Shostakovich, 1950s Tippett and William Schuman then this is a work you need to hear. Those elements are contrasted with Mathias’s own ringing and chiming brand of Celtic poetry which runs as a constant through all his orchestral works.
 
It says much for Wyastone, set deep in the Monmouth countryside – and now the home of Lyrita – that they beamingly accommodate so much Mathias. Their Nimbus label hosts the symphonies and much else while their Lyrita’s catalogue accommodates This Worlde’s Joie and three CDs worth of orchestral recordings harvested from EMI, Decca and Argo original LPs (SRCD.334; SRCD328; SRCD325; SRCD325). It’s just a pity that they could not track down the contents of the RCA Mathias LP issued, I think, in 1977.
 
The technical side of the Mathias’s translation from analogue to digital has been handled with the usual aplomb by Simon Gibson.
 
Joubert’s note on the Symphony is present in the English-only booklet complete with biographical profile by Paul Conway who also provides detailed background for the Mathias.
 
Two turbulent symphonies of the British Isles written a decade apart and driven each by their own dynamic and poetic elementals.
 
Rob Barnett
 
 


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