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EDMUND RUBBRA Songs for Voice and harp: A hymn to the Virgin Op13 no2: Rosa Mundi Op 2: The Mystery Op 4 no 1: Jesukin Op 4 no 2: Orpheus with his Lute Op 8 no2: Song-Cycle The Jade Mountain Op 116 Solo harp works Fukagawa (1929) Transformations Op 141 Pezzo Ostinato Op 102 Nocturne by BERKELEY and Prelude by HOWELLS Harp and cello Discourse Op 127 Solo Cello Improvisation Op 124  
Tracey Chadwell Soprano Danielle Perrett harp Timothy Gill cello   ASV CD DCA 1036

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Those of us who know and love Rubbra’s music are at last getting what we have wanted for many years, that is, a full and true representation of his music on CD in superb performances. This year has seen the choral works which I reviewed in March and the 3rd and 7th Symphonies which I reviewed in June. Now we have some of his most lovely music, his songs and harp works. Rubbra loved the harp and he always wrote for it with skill and understanding, including it quite often in his choral and orchestral works to most telling effect for example in Inscape Op. 122.
Whilst Rubbra’s choral music is still woefully little known and under-represented in the catalogues most other areas of his work are emerging. What he had to say, both musically and spiritually, is chiming in with our own times.
This CD also amounts to a most lovely memorial to the late Tracey Chadwell who cared so much about English songs and who performed them as often as possible. Her contribution was recorded in April 1995; she died in January 1996. The rest of the CD - the harp solos by Danielle Perrett - were recorded in May 1997 hence the reason why the disc is only now available.
To my knowledge only the Pezzo Ostinato has been recorded before - by Ann Griffiths its dedicatee, in the early 1970s. Some of the songs have been put onto the Associated Board syllabus. These include the ‘Hymn to the Virgin’, and ‘Jesukin’. They are there not because of their technical difficulty necessarily, but because of the considerable musicality they demand from performers to bring off these perfect miniatures. I have known the songs for over twenty years - indeed I was fortunate enough to give the first London performance of ‘The Mystery’ in 1974. I have taught them and I realize all too well the myriad interpretations and nuances that are available to the sensitive singer. Tracey Chadwell was just such an artist and captures the true meaning of each song with total commitment and beauty. She is most sensitively accompanied by Danielle Perrett and the two work together hand in glove.
Some of the above songs could be described as neo-medieval - Danielle Perrett in her most useful and handy sleeve note does use that phrase - with their strong modality. Other works here are Oriental in inspiration. The previously unknown solo harp piece ‘Fukagawa’ was written for an Oriental entertainment c.1927. ‘The Jade Mountain’ is a setting of Chinese poetry and the Pezzo Ostinato with its incantatory atmosphere uses an unusual seven-note oriental scale stated at the top of the score.
It’s worth remembering that Rubbra was first exposed to things oriental when he was briefly taught by Cyril Scott as early as 1920. Although Rubbra became a Roman Catholic in the 1950s his interest never waned. His only opera ‘The Shadow’ (1933) is subtitled ‘Bee-Bee Bei’ and was, as the composer confided, “fostered by my interest in Eastern philosophy and religion”. The Piano Concerto Op. 85 is dedicated to the Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan whom he met c.1955.
The most substantial work here is the ‘Transformations’ for solo harp Op. 141 of 1972. This is a remarkable piece. Rubbra once described his 11th Symphony as ‘a controlled improvisation’ a term which I feel could well apply to much of Rubbra’s late music from circa 1970. Certainly the improvisatory feel is strong here, enhanced by this exceptionally fine performance. That said, there is never a sense of meaningless rambling. The opening idea of falling and rising sixths is, on the surface, rather banal. On the other hand it is developed with freedom and fantasy yet is so very tightly controlled that it is captivating throughout its entire 13-plus minutes.
The contributions from cellist Timothy Gill are also of a high quality with the aptly titled ‘Improvisation’ Op. 124 a great highlight.
So, to sum up: a beautiful and worthy disc containing wonderful music perfectly and delightfully performed and recorded.

Gary Higginson


Gary Higginson

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