Rubbra: String Quartet No.2

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rubbra
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet No. 2; Amoretti for voice and string quartet, Op. 43; Ave Maria Gratia Plena; Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 68
PERFORMER: Charles Daniels (tenor), Martin Roscoe (piano); Maggini Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572286

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Think of early-ish Tippett with less rhetoric – also, it must be said, less technical and emotional range – and you have an idea of the appealing humanity of the music of Edmund Rubbra. Variety of pace and mood is not its strong point, which would not be an issue in a varied concert programme that featured other composers’ music (surely how Rubbra, himself a fine pianist, would have imagined it being heard).

But it does mean that this recording is best not played through in a single session. With these minor reservations, this is a fine portrait of a composer with a calmly insistent mind of his own. 

The most individual statements are the two groups of songs for voice and string quartet – the five Spenser settings of Amoretti, and ‘Balulalow’ and a Villon poem which together make up Ave Maria Gratia Plena. Charles Daniels sings these with equable composure, and immaculate sensitivity to Rubbra’s word-setting; meanwhile the Maggini Quartet’s accompaniments evoke the sound of a viol consort without overdoing it, nicely enhancing the music’s affinity with the composer’s beloved Tudor and Elizabethan periods. 

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The less strongly defined approach of the instrumental chamber works nonetheless finds room for some remarkable creations, like the deft, intricate counterpoint of the Second String Quartet’s Scherzo polimetrico, and the grave beauty of its slow ‘Cavatina’. The performances
here are again excellent. Malcolm Hayes