Rubbra: Song of the Soul; Four Medieval Latin Lyrics; Inscape; Veni, creator spiritus; Advent Cantata

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COMPOSERS: Rubbra
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Song of the Soul; Four Medieval Latin Lyrics; Inscape; Veni, creator spiritus; Advent Cantata
PERFORMER: Stephen Varcoe (baritone); Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chorus, City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9847
Three exciting recording premieres here: Song of the Soul (1952) for chorus and orchestra, setting words by St John of the Cross; Veni, creator spiritus, a 1966 Proms commission for chorus and brass; and Advent Cantata (1968), for baritone solo, chorus and orchestra.

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It’s no surprise that a prolific and respected symphonist like Rubbra should use the orchestra to its full potential in these choral works as well. Hickox, who has recorded the entire symphony cycle for Chandos, has a real affinity for this music, and draws from his City of London Sinfonia deeply felt interpretations, the strings excelling particularly in the lush yet discordant writing in Song of the Soul.

Rubbra has never been a crowd-puller and his is not an immediately distinctive voice – touches of his teacher Holst, Vaughan Williams, Stravinsky, even Elgar, abound. But he took his music seriously, working his way from railway clerk to professor of composition at the Guildhall, and what it lacks in pizazz it makes up for in beauty and spiritual depth.

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Stephen Varcoe’s baritone in the Medieval Latin Lyrics (1932) is vigorous and clear in the rapid Latin of ‘Rondel’ and full of controlled emotion in the ‘Lament’. The Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chorus generally meets the music’s demands, though the sopranos’ highest passages sound a touch strangled. Janet Banks