WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9; Symphony No. 10; Symphony No. 11
PERFORMER: Lynne Dawson (soprano), Della Jones (mezzo-soprano), Stephen Roberts (baritone); BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9944(5) Reissue (1991-5)
Absences of the vernacular, of irony and of the picturesque characterise the symphonies of Edmund Rubbra, absolute music which, at its best, aspires to a personal and refreshingly un-English vision of the sublime. This is true not only of its climactic moments, but also of passages where the composer pursues his own brand of organic-linear thinking through quietly ecstatic counterpoint.
The fierce, mid-European dialectic of the First Symphony, with its Holstian intermezzo, and the passacaglia finale of the Seventh, in memoriam Gerald Finzi, display Rubbra’s art at its finest, as do the Eighth, inspired by Teilhard de Chardin, and the terse 11th, Rubbra’s swansong. The Fourth, once deemed the best of them, only seems less so in comparison with the quality of others revealed in this Chandos anthology of recent recordings by Richard Hickox, reissued together to mark the centenary of the composer’s birth.
Once stalwarts of the catalogue, the Fifth and Tenth conducted by Hans-Hubert Schönzeler are now hard to find, but worth seeking out as alternatives. Likewise, a Barbirolli Fifth, and a Lyrita part-cycle, now deleted. But Hickox, who first recorded Rubbra’s music way back in 1975, carries the prize for depth of insight and freshness of orchestral texture. Nicholas Williams