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BBC Symphony Orchestra and Adrian Boult perform Rubbra’s Symphony Nos 2 and 4

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony Nos 2 & 4
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult, Edmund Rubbra
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0179

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Sir Adrian Boult was the dedicatee of Edmund Rubbra’s Second Symphony; he conducted its premiere in 1938, and included it many years later in his choice on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs. Such a deep personal connection shines through every bar of this 1954 studio recording, whose near- incandescent intensity makes the strongest possible case for Rubbra’s powerfully felt and sustained, but riskily monochrome idiom, with its dominant emphasis on linear flow. Sometimes you might yearn for those ‘points of light’ Ravel showed Vaughan Williams to add for offsetting touches of contrast to a similarly sturdy orchestral style. That said, the single-minded mastery of the symphony’s two big slow movements is unmistakable; the quicker second and fourth are each shorter, with the finale sharing something of Nielsen’s mastery of high-speed linear momentum.

Rubbra described Boult’s interpretation as ‘quite stupendous’ – and his own performance of his Fourth Symphony, at its premiere at the 1942 BBC Proms, isn’t far behind, with fervently vivid playing from the strings in particular. Again there are two big and mainly slow-ish movements, this time flanking a short central ‘Intermezzo’, with the first movement building a long and radiant statement out of a deceptively simple interplay of melody and accompaniment. With the recordings expertly restored, the hardening or distortion in the Second’s big moments is not excessive; and the clean-up treatment of the Fourth, both in the performance’s pre-LP-era sound and in Rubbra’s introductory broadcast talk, has been decently successful.

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Malcolm Hayes