Symphonies Nos 2 & 4; Knight in Armour; Song for Orchestra
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Rumon Gamba
Chandos CHAN 20078 69:20 mins
This recording is long overdue. A pupil of Vaughan Williams and Gordon Jacob, Ruth Gipps (1921-99) multitasked tirelessly for music in the UK, whether playing the oboe (she was with the CBSO during World War II), lecturing, writing, conducting professional or amateur ensembles, or composing (most of her works are orchestral or choral). She was an outspoken critic of the trend towards serialism at the expense of traditional musical language, so it’s no surprise that her music is influenced by tonal composers of the time, including Sibelius and Bliss; however, its high expressiveness is all her own, often very personal.
This is certainly true of the heartfelt oboe solo in the brief, beautiful Song for Orchestra (1948), and likewise of the often unsettling tone of the Second Symphony, begun just after World War II and reflecting life before, during and after the conflict, concluding in triumph with her husband’s homecoming. Knight in Armour, premiered by Sir Henry Wood at the Last Night of the Proms in 1942, is much of its time and rather filmic – you half expect Errol Flynn to march in. But the Fourth Symphony (1972), dedicated to Sir Arthur Bliss, proves a masterful creation, serious and colourful in equal measures; one suspects that it’s the piece most likely to attract wider rehabilitation. Not for nothing is it placed first on the disc. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Rumon Gamba give warm-hearted, energetic, well-paced accounts, and their oboist deserves a special accolade.