Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Symphony No. 1 (1936) première recording, Sinfonia Concertante (1936) * première recording, A Tribute (1942) Howard Shelley (piano) * BBC Welsh SO/Richard Hickox   rec Nov 1995 and Aug 1996   CHANDOS CHAN 9538 [71.13]

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Review by Rob Barnett:-

This disc couples two previously unrecorded works. By the time Chandos had made a start many of the symphonies had, by a process of gradual accretion, been recorded commercially however numbers 1, 3, 8, 9 and 11 had been recalcitrant. It was only a project of Chandos's thoroughness and resolve that would bring these works out into the light.

The Symphony is characteristic of the turmoil of the 1930s and has clear (though presumably quite coincidental) linkages with Holmboe's Symphonies 2 and 3. The first movement in particular is a portrait of conflict and vigour. The second is insistently and dancingly repetitive - reminiscent of Vaughan Williams. The finale suggests a grey land of comfort - a comfort amidst the singing of desolate songs. There are high serenading strings relaxed but grand in stride and expansive in breadth. These are hefted by high trumpets and tolling timpani and those trumpets majestically top the textures in the finale.

A Tribute speaks a language of reserved eloquence but with a hint of Rubbra's typically ecstatic dancing.

The Sinfonia Concertante is austere with a first movement of a Bachian repose rooted deep in the piano solo. This contrasts with the clean romanticism of the strings. There is no decadence at all. We encounter a more Sibelian Rubbra than we are used to in the strings. That little snap and slide in the strings (3.50) links with Allan Pettersson's Symphony No. 7. At 6.40 Finzi's influence can be discerned (Finzi and Rubbra were friends) linking with Finzi's Grand Fantasia and Toccata and Eclogue. This is spliced with a Bartokian disruption in the tonality and the snap and slide of a Hungarian pifferario. This is a long first movement rounded out with a grim, heavy-footed and doomed march. The second movement's high jinks suggests Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony but with the barbed effect of a smashed mirror, diabolically energetic piano writing and gratingly harsh brass climaxes.

The finale is a prelude and fugue in response to Holst's death. A sweet violin solo, perhaps rather indeterminate leads to a Brahmsian heroism and a quiet and hearty Bachian spirit.

Review by Hubert Culot:-

For many years Rubbra's First has been something of a mystery work; more discussed than heard. Comments as to its forbidding character and thick orchestration have been numerous. When the piece was revived some years ago it was revealed as one of Rubbra's most impressive achievements. True, the music - especially in the first movement - may be a good deal more aggressive than we have come to expect. It possesses a formidable energy propelled by forceful ostinati and the tension generated in the course of the first movement never slackens, even in the slower episodes. The second movement Périgourdine (after an old French tune) provides some relaxation from the accumulated tension. The music becomes weightier, darker, more dissonant as it progresses towards its climax. The long, mainly slow third movement is the real heart of the symphony and most resembles what we have come to recognise as Rubbra's own voice. It opens with a beautiful dialogue between the solo cello and the solo viola over a pizzicato ostinato from the basses. The music slowly develops towards another powerful climax before reverting to a more peaceful conclusion though the latter is not easily reached.

That symphonic thinking was central to Rubbra's preoccupations is evident from his Sinfonia Concertante; Rubbra's first large-scale orchestral piece. Obviously he did not mean it to be a confrontational concerto but rather a work in which both piano and orchestra share a symphonic argument. Even in shorter works such as A Tribute Rubbra does not depart from such symphonic thinking. © Hubert Culot


Symphony No. 1

BBCSO/Simon Joly 29 Jan 1988

RLPO/Groves 1970s?

Sinfonia Concertante

composer (piano) / City of Birmingham Orchestra / Boult early 1950s?

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