Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) was an English composer who studied composition with Gustav Holst (he later wrote a biography of the composer) at the Royal College of Music and who was regarded as one of the leading composers of his day. He composed a total of 11 symphonies of which Nos. 6 and 8 are presented here along with his Soliloquy for Cello and Orchestra to top off this generous Lyrita disc. Norman del Mar and the Philharmonia Orchestra perform the symphonies, while the Soliloquy is played by Vernon Handley and the London Symphony Orchestra. The recordings were made in the late 1970’s (Soliloquy) and early 1980’s (symphonies) but neither was recorded digitally. They were all digitally remastered with great success.
Symphony 6 is a darkly beautiful work that I found rather melancholic. Unlike so much modern music, it takes little effort to enjoy this work that is dominated by strings. While you won’t get up from your listening chair humming the melodies, they are nonetheless beautifully woven themes that carry drama, emotion and intensity. This is particularly true of the 4th movement which I found emotionally stirring. Rubbra was a superb orchestrator, a fact illustrated by this movement especially, with its sonorous finale of strings and brass. And the timpani, while never overplayed, is an important and well-defined pulse of the coda.
Symphony 8’s mood resembles that of the Sixth. If you are familiar with my classical reviews, you already know how I look for the timpani’s definition in works. Well, I was not disappointed here. The 1st movement is large in scope and intensity with prominent timpani. Del Mar is one of those conductors who you don’t hear a lot, but he is always exciting. He seems well able to elucidate the ideas within the murky texture of this symphony for the listener. I honestly can’t find anything I don’t enjoy about Rubbra. He never allows the music to loiter. There is always a new idea or an old one redefined. The 2nd movement is more lively but not much happier. The 3rd and final movement is a tragic sounding Poco Lento with a sorrowful mood of considerable intensity. Now, this is a movement that dwells in the doldrums of despair. At around 5 minutes, the intensity increases with a strong pulsatile rhythm that gives way to anguish. Wow, can this composer ever search the darker places of the soul. Then, almost surprisingly, the music lifts out of the swamp and ends softly in major. At times, the music will make you reach for the Prozac. But despite the predominant mood, I found the movement growing on me with repeated listenings.
The Soliloquy begins immediately with the cello presenting a dark theme. No surprise, right? I must confess that I found the Soliloquy less compelling than the symphonies. It was recorded earlier than the symphonies, is played by Handley/LSO, and has a sonically constricted ambience.
For the Symphonies 6 and 8, I can report that the sound is excellent but not superb. Soundstage and center fill are superb, however. At times the strings sounded a bit grainy, but otherwise is not issue. What is an issue is how great the music is. I think you will want to explore Rubbra’s other symphonies. I certainly will. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!