John JOUBERT (b. 1927)
String Quartet No.1 in A flat Op.1 (1950) [23:55]
String Quartet No.2 Op.91 (1977) [24:04]
String Quartet No.3 Op.112 (1987, rev. 1988) [21:49]
Brodsky Quartet
rec. St. Mary's Church, Walthamstow, London, 25-26 June 2011 (1 and 3); 20 February 2006 (2 - first issued on SOMMCD 060-2)
SOMM SOMMCD 0113 [70:21]

John Joubert's three string quartets span some thirty years of his thankfully long creative life. They give a fair idea of his musical progress over the years emphasising both stylistic evolution and the many common characteristics to be heard in his large and varied output. 
The First String Quartet, the composer's official Opus 1, is clearly the work of a young composer eager to flex his muscles. It is one in which there is much youthful and refreshing exuberance inherited from the composer's admiration for the work of some of his senior contemporaries such as Walton and Tippett. The outer movements clearly betray Joubert's admiration for Walton and one can hear echoes of Walton's String Quartet in A minor composed a few years before the Joubert work. Similarly the very beginning of the third movement suggests early Tippett. Much of the music is personal enough, the beautiful slow movement particularly so. It makes for a remarkable Opus 1 of which the composer may be proud. The First String Quartet is dedicated To Mary, a pianist and fellow-student at the Royal Academy whom the composer was to marry a year later.

The present recording of the Second String Quartet was originally released as part of an eightieth birthday record (SOMMCD 060-2) that I reviewed here at that time. So I can best refer anyone to that review. Suffice to say that it is a completely mature piece in which the composer sometimes glances back at a number of influences - in particular that of Shostakovich - that have helped mould his personal language. The first movement, however, is based on the “Muss es sein?” motive familiar from Beethoven. This works as an introduction to the following Allegro vivace that also makes play with the Beethoven motif. There follows a nervous Scherzo in turn followed by a slow movement “In Memoriam DSCH” that contains some of the finest music that Joubert has ever penned. The famous DSCH figure only appears at the very end of the movement. The final movement follows without a break and attempts an appeased resolution of the tensions of the previous movements. This it achieves in some measure although some tension remains.

The shadow of Shostakovich again looms large over parts of the Third String Quartet completed in 1987 and revised in 1988. The rather tense first movement is permeated with a variant of DSCH and its overall mood is clearly reminiscent of the Russian composer's music. The second movement is a slow, substantial fugue bridging into the somewhat lighter-weight Finale that makes play with two main thematic ideas: a syncopated 'walking' melody as the composer has it and a quote from his much earlier Piano Concerto Op.25 of 1957. This fine substantial work ends in a bright, unproblematic mood dispelling the pressures accumulated in the preceding movements. The Third String Quartet is dedicated to Howard Ferguson with whom Joubert studied at the Royal Academy. 
John Joubert's three string quartets unquestionably belong to his most personal utterances. It is good to have all three in such excellent and committed performances and very fine recording.

Joubert's discography is now slowly but regularly expanding although there remains much that has still to be given consideration such as some of his large-scale choral-orchestral works. He is fairly well known for the latter but these works have received very little airing, if at all, after their first - and in many cases - only performance. Anyway one must be grateful for what one has now and one cannot but keep one's fingers crossed hoping for more.

This is a beautifully played and nicely produced release.

Hubert Culot 

John Joubert's three string quartets on record at last: beautifully played and nicely produced.