Walton's Viola Concerto (1928-9) was the composer's first outright masterpiece and is one of the finest concertos written for this lovely instrument - no longer as neglected as at one time. The music contains all the fingerprints of the mature composer - the intense lyricism of the themes combined with a fine feeling for pungent rhythms. The version recorded here is the original one: Walton revised the orchestration in 1961, reducing the woodwind and trumpets, removing the tuba and adding a harp.
Edmund Rubbra's music has made a considerable come back, on recordings at least, over the past two decades. Most of his music is accessible on CD today after a prolonged period of neglect. His work is approachable, melodic and often very beautiful. Contrapuntal in conception, it pays to listen carefully to the inner parts of the music. The structure tends to evolve organically from the nature of the material, so trying to spot the elements of sonata form and such templates leads to confusion. The thing is to just go with the music, which always has strong internal logic.
The Viola Concerto from 1952 has haunted me since I first heard it in the 1970s. It is not as extrovert as the Walton, though there is a fine scherzo middle movement, and the first thing that struck me when I first heard it many years ago was the nature of the melodies Rubbra creates. Like those in Vaughan Williams's Flos Campi, they seem to spring from the unique timbre of the viola itself. With regard to the final movement, I quote Leo Black's* excellent insert notes, "Rubbra said his finale, a `collana musicale' or musical necklace, was based entirely on material from the viola's first thirteen bars, making up `nine interrelated meditations... without a central theme, but linked together in spirit'. This movement has many passages of great beauty of a kind only Rubbra could realise.
As a bonus, the central work is Meditations on a Byzantine Hymn for solo viola, another fine piece lasting just eleven minutes.
Lawrence Power is considered by many to be the finest living British violist and he gives excellent performances of all the works. He is ably supported by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ilan Volkov. The recording is up to Hyperion's high standards.
*Leo Black has written a book on Rubbra's symphonies, 'Edmund Rubbra: Symphonist', The Boydell Press (2008)