Rubbra: Symphony No. 9 (Sinfonia sacra); The Morning Watch

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COMPOSERS: Rubbra
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 9 (Sinfonia sacra); The Morning Watch
PERFORMER: Lynne Dawson (soprano), Della Jones (alto), Stephen Roberts (baritone); BBC National Chorus & Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9441 DDD
Rubbra’s creative power is just as likely to reveal itself in music of a massive calm and serenity as in expressions of climactic dynamism. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in Richard Hickox’s latest addition to Chandos’s planned recording of the complete symphonic canon. To some the Ninth Symphony, Sinfonia Sacra, never before recorded, may sound more like a cantata or condensed passion. But Rubbra was careful about his title, and there are palpable symphonic processes to support the narration and devotional commentaries concerning events leading up to the Resurrection.

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Each of the four sections comprising the symphony’s continuous structure ends in a chorus of luminous intensity, three of them including a chorale subtly harmonised by Rubbra to draw upon ancient associations. English music buffs will notice passing resemblances to Elgar’s The Apostles and Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony, as well as to Holst’s visionary purity. Yet the work is absolutely of its composer, and seems to encapsulate England’s 20th-century contemplative tradition. The moment of Christ’s Ascension is drawn with unique beauty.

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The Morning Watch, an earlier example of Rubbra’s essentially religious art, makes an equally arresting impression, and like the symphony is quite superbly performed and recorded. Anthony Payne