Rubbra: Violin Concerto, Etc / Yuasa, Osostowicz, Et Al
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Edmund Rubbra (1901?1986) waited a long time for the recognition that was his due. Although he found his voice and manner by the late 1930s, securing occasional performances and radio broadcasts of quality, it wasn?t until the 1970s that many of his symphonies achieved their premieres on LP?and the first recorded edition of his 11 symphonies had to wait until 2001. Many reasons have been attested for this neglect over the years, but the most convincing argument I?ve read is that he was too complex and ?un-English? for the old guard, while remaining far too conservative tonally and structurally for the Young Turks of the period.
Rubbra?s style certainly would fit into this uneasy zone that lay outside the accepted boundaries of the conventional and the conventionally unconventional. There is a curious amalgam in his compositions of Sibelian transformative development with complex, linear textures, and vocally inflected thematic lines that derive from Renaissance polyphony. Even more than Vaughan Williams, Rubbra frequently envisioned his more ambitious works as reactions to a moral battleground; and the length of his religious convictions can be taken by noting his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1948. But although Rubbra used a musical language that was determinedly consonant and tonal, it didn?t possess any of the trappings of the folk nationalist school. When members of the avant-garde were latching onto the latest techniques to prove their individuality, Rubbra made good, traditional music, yet sounded like no one at any time save himself.
The Violin Concerto of 1959 is an excellent example of this. The allegro ?s uneasy thematic line is characteristic, as is its grave sweetness, delicate orchestration, and propulsive rhythms. The slow movement is among the most beautiful things ever penned by this composer who had little regard for surface beauty?an intensely meditative study that ranges between serenity and lyrical exaltation. As for the allegro giacoso that rounds off this work, extroverted finales were never that difficult for Rubbra. Unlike Lloyd and Finzi, he never sought to conclude anything composed in a serious manner and elegiac tone with a forced ?jolly celebration.? His finale here is on the minor side of several modes, but with bounding rhythms and brief, figurative allusions to folk drones (so very much like Rubbra?s favorite symphonic pedal points). The effect is not unlike Baroque dances in minor keys, exhilarating and with a twinkle in the eye that belies the grim set of the mouth.
The Improvisation for Violin and Orchestra was originally a Fantasia composed in the mid 1930s, then substantially recomposed in 1956 for a commission by the Louisville Orchestra. The lengthy, plaintive solo for violin with only occasional ominous rumblings from the timpani set the basic tone for the piece, whose ruminations cover the ground from self-lacerating doubt to momentary epiphany. Like the Violin Concerto?s slow movement, this Improvisation is a seemingly spontaneous but carefully wrought work.
The third composition on the program represents a departure, not only from the rest of the album, but from most of the composer?s ?uvre . I first encountered the Improvisation on Virginal Pieces by Giles Farnaby 30 years ago on a British RCA LP, where Rubbra wrote that a lighthearted piece was sought by Universal Edition to offset the cost of engraving and printing his First Symphony. (The LP was part of a series underwritten by Harveys of Bristol, manufacturers of Harveys Bristol Cream. Anyone want to suggest to Peter Coors that he sponsor a new recorded series of the works of William Schuman?) The result was this work, wherein Rubbra re-orchestrated and lightly but amusingly retouched five of Farnaby?s delightfully folk-inflected keyboard pieces. It?s a charmer.
Yuasa takes a relaxed but firm hand to all three pieces; too relaxed, perhaps, in the Violin Concerto?s opening movement, compared to a now-deleted Unicorn LP that featured David Measham leading the Melbourne SO, with soloist Carl Pini. I?ve never enjoyed Pini?s acidulous if bracing tone, but that same movement took roughly two minutes less on that release, and gained in the process. Elsewhere, Yuasa articulates the many lines of the finale so well that he conveys a sense of blithe activity without great speed. The slow movement and the Improvisation for Violin and Orchestra benefit from his considered approach. Osostowicz displays a warm tone, seamless legato, strong technique, and commanding personality. The Farnaby pieces could use more energy, but focus is never lacking, and Schönzeler did worse on my old LP. The Ulster Orchestra is bright, rich, and well blended, but that?s hardly news.
Sound is forward and effectively balanced, while Malcolm MacDonald supplies attractive liner notes. The timings are a bit slim, but with performances and music such as we find here, offered at a budget price, who can complain? Definitely recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Catalog Number: 8557591
Composer: Edmund Rubbra
Conductor: Takno Tuasa
Orchestra/Ensemble: Ulster Orchestra
Performer: Krysia Osostowicz