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Symphony No. 2 (1937) Symphony No. 6 (1954) BBC Welsh SO/Richard Hickox   CHANDOS CHAN 9481 [67.32]

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Review by Rob Barnett:-

The second symphony is another product of the 1930s but revised in 1950. It typifies various Rubbra traits: the long lines of the strings, repose (unsmug), strings whirling and probing as a scimitar and a refreshing debt to Sibelius. The other three movements compellingly explore Beethovenian spirit, brass stabs (Nielsen is a reference point), dancing fugues, an adagio of Shostakovich-like edge and a grand turbulent finale ploughing ever onwards.

For the Sixth Symphony the opening bars seem to say 'here is comfort'. This is succeeded by dancing Sibelian woodwind (compare Sibelius 3), a heartless and impersonal celerity, much serenity from high violin music, a hint of Copland's 'song of the lonely prairies' or even of Alain Fournier's Grand Meaulnes: a fragile beauty out of the pages of Neptune. If you know the second symphony of Randall Thompson (and you should!) the scherzo will seem familiar though it has a more opaque effect than Thompson. The finale's cor anglais sings a self-absorbed solo: 'The Swan Of Chiltern' perhaps - passionate and passionate strings (2.26), and a Christmas carol brass chorale (8.30) courses irrepressibly over the top of the musical texture. A masterful work.

Review by Hubert Culot:-

"Edmund Rubbra's symphonies trace a path of spiritual searching which ran throughout his life...The search was, rather, a journey towards the fulfilment of fundamental ideas realised in terms of musical unity, cohesion and organicism." (Robert Saxton). True, and this is why all Rubbra symphonies sound alike and, at the time, why each of them is different from the other. From the first symphony onwards, Rubbra's symphonic quest is for greater cohesion and more complete integration; a quest that eventually led him to experiment with compressed symphonic forms culminating in his last masterpiece, the tenth symphony.

The second and sixth symphonies have much in common. They are nevertheless very contrasted. The second symphony was written immediately after the completion of the first symphony (Op. 44), almost as if Rubbra felt that ideas from his first symphony needed to be experienced in another way than in the uncompromising First. The second symphony already exhibits a greater clarity and a comparatively simpler working-out of its basic ideas. This is partly achieved through the scoring.

Somebody once said that you do not really notice Rubbra's scoring because it is intimately linked to the musical ideas. In spite of what some may say, Rubbra was a fine orchestrator. He found the only scoring suited to his musical thinking. Just listen to the splendid scherzo of the second symphony. The Symphony No. 6 (1953/4) had the unfavourable privilege of coming fairly soon after the most popular Rubbra symphony (No. 5, 1948). This may be why it has been rather less popular than its predecessor although it possesses many qualities likely to compete with those of the Fifth. It has a beautiful Canto: largo e sereno: one of Rubbra's most beautiful movements.

Recordings of these symphonies once available on Lyrita LPs have been re-issued in CD format. These performances by Handley (No. 2 SRCD235) and Del Mar (No. 6 SRCD234) were and still are superb. The present Hickox readings are very fine and beautifully recorded. These beautiful works are among Rubbra's finest achievements. This Rubbra cycle is yet another fine achievement and must be unreservedly welcomed. Hubert Culot


Symphony No. 2

RLPO/Groves 1970s

Symphony No. 6

BBCSO/Rudolf Schwarz 1960s?

RPO/Boult 1960s?

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