WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4 ; A Tribute; Resurgam Overture
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
CATALOGUE NO: SRCD 202 Reissue (1990)
Edmund Rubbra (1901-88) belonged to the same dynasty of British symphonists as Tippett and Walton. Though more prolific than either, with eleven symphonies to his credit, Rubbra remains an undeservedly marginalised figure. Unhurried, serious, but strangely remote, Rubbra’s orchestral works often suggest a private, interior world, empowered by contemplation, not conflict. Of the two symphonies recorded here, only the Fourth, written in 1942, offers any challenging rhetoric.
Norman Del Mar unfurls the beginning of Symphony No. 4 magically enough; Robert Layton called this ‘one of the most beautiful openings, not just in Rubbra, but in all English music’. But generally, this 1990 recording misses the urgent, purposeful advocacy that Richard Hickox brings to the work. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales responds sonorously to his exacting demands, and Hickox’s Chandos recording has wider dynamic spread and more internal detailing than Lyrita’s reissue. Del Mar’s reading of Symphony No. 3 (1939) seems more competent than compelling, but Rubbra’s Tribute, written for Vaughan Williams’s 70th birthday, is better played than Hans-Hubert Schönzeler’s 1976 Chandos version from Bournemouth. Hickox and the BBC NOW bring the Elgarian eloquence and Sibelian gravity of Rubbra’s Fourth Symphony fully to life, and their survey must now be regarded as definitive. Michael Jameson