Rubbra, Vaughan Williams

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COMPOSERS: Rubbra,Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Deux-Elles
WORKS: Rune of Hospitality; Preludes, Op. 131; Two Sonnets by William Alabaster; Ave Maria gratia plena; Three Psalms
PERFORMER: Mark Chambers (countertenor), David Mason (piano); Caractacus String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: DXL 1012
The centenary of Edward Rubbra’s birth has led to a new and welcome focus on his songs: this disc makes strong advocacy for them. The Celtic Rune of Hospitality, which gives the disc its name (and which now features more prominently on tea towels up and down the country than Rubbra would have dared to imagine) was set by him in 1925: the easy, conversational shape of its vocal line, and its spare, modal accompaniment were to become fingerprints of Rubbra’s meditative style – a style to which Mark Chambers’s chaste, plain-speaking countertenor is so well suited.

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In 1955 Rubbra turned to two sonnets by the metaphysical poet William Alabaster. The close-focus and perfect match of voice, piano (David Mason) and viola (David Le Page) recreate in sound the soul’s ivy-like clinging to the crucifix on which it meditates. For his Ave Maria gratia plena, published in 1953, Rubbra recast his ‘O my deir hert’ (also set by Britten in his Ceremony of Carols) for string quartet: the Caractacus Quartet undergirds the intense fervour of Chambers’s performance.

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Chambers’s voice is at its most eloquent in its upper reaches, and in this other-worldly poetry: it is a little weaker in its lower range and in the more intimately human address of Ursula Vaughan Williams’s poetry, set by her husband in his Four Last Songs. The composer is also represented here by the Four Poems by Fredegond Shove, his niece: here his searching sensitivity to their every inflection redeems and reinvigorates the sometimes languid sentiments of this Georgian poetry. Hilary Finch