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EDMUND RUBBRA Violin Sonatas No 1 (1930); No 2 (1932); No 3 (1968); Four Pieces Op 29; Variations on a Phrygian Theme Op 105. Krysia Osostowicz (Violin) Michael Dussek (Piano)   DUTTON CDLX 7101

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This disc fills a gap in the expanding Rubbra discography and is very welcome, being sensitively played and beautifully recorded. Only the Second Sonata has been recorded before and that, at least three times: Albert Sammons and Gerald Moore c.1941 the only work Rubbra had recorded before about 1950; Rubbra with Kantorovich c.1950; Llyn Fletcher in 1992 for Dervorguilla (CD104, Rubbra Chamber Music).

The First Sonata remains unpublished and, from Rubbra's point of view, one can see why as he probably felt that it lacked stylistic unity. The first movement is reminiscent of John Ireland and the third is a curious chromatic fugue which shows the influence of Rubbra's loves at that time, Cyril Scott and Scriabin. Speaking of 'loves', it was written for Antoinette Chaplin who became the first Mrs. Rubbra in 1931. It is a beautiful work, especially the second movement, and deserves to be published. I can only recall hearing it once before, in a broadcast about ten years ago with Eric Gruenberg accompanied by our own John McCabe.

Rubbra always writes beautifully for the violin. There is also the Violin Concerto (1958) and the Improvisation for Violin and Orchestra (1956). Rubbra in fact had lessons on the instrument for many years from his piano teacher's wife, Grace Howard-Jones (nee Thynne).

It is worth saying that these works do not quite qualify as the complete music for violin and piano as, although the disc is just less than an hour long, the Op 144 Five Graded Pieces written for the Guildhall School of Music's examinations (Rubbra was for a while on the staff there) are curiously omitted. They have a similar purpose to the lovely but equally didactic Four Pieces Op 29. I do hope that young players might be exposed to these now that they can be heard on CD. For anyone not convinced that Rubbra could write a tune just listen to No.3 the Slow Dance.

Of course, early Rubbra, by which I mean the Rubbra works dating from the period which culminates in the incredibly exciting 1st Symphony (1937) almost seems like a different 'animal' from the later Rubbra. The Second Sonata includes a wild Spanish type dance, which is like nothing else in Rubbra's output. Ralph Scott Grover in his excellent book 'The Music of Edmund Rubbra' (Scolar Press 1993) talks here of Bartokian influence. Bartok was a composer Rubbra greatly admired and spoke to me about on several occasions. Here the sonata is superbly played and Osostowicz who never relaxes the tension and is slightly faster than Llyn Fletcher.

The Third Sonata is a masterpiece, a superbly blended cross between the improvisatory and the schematic. Lewis Foreman, in his excellent notes, describes it as enigmatic, but having been closely acquainted with the piece now for 25 years I feel that it has a strength of design and character that only slowly grow on one. I wonder how long these performers have known it. They play with great assurance and confidence. The work was first heard in 1968. Incidentally I must contradict the comment made by Scott Grover that the Third Sonata was not played in London until the Wigmore Hall performance of 13 June 1985. When Rubbra retired from the Guildhall in 1975 his students, including myself, organised a farewell concert for him on 26 March in which David Butler and Robert Penkett played the Third Sonata. The composer was present.

The Variations make a compact and elusive work: 12 variations and a coda packed into 6 minutes. It demonstrates Rubbra's unique view of variation form where there is a greater sense of metamorphosis than of strict variation. The variations were written for Frederick Grinke, a fine player who had promoted Rubbra' s earlier sonatas.

Gary Higginson


Gary Higginson

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