on 29 December 2010
When the Sixth Symphony was not more than a couple of years old, Barbirolli brought the Halle to Oxford, and included it in a concert at the Sheldonian Theatre. Rubbra was there, sitting in one of the boxes over the side doors, and I found myself above and opposite him. His body language was unihibited and unambiguous. He lived every second of his music, and clearly approved of everything Barbirolli did. Which was interesting, because Barbirolli took a much broader view of the work than del Mar's or Hickox's recordings. An old Intaglio disc of a public performance under Boult ( dismissed by Gramophone in its review of the first LP issue of this disc) preserves the accepted tempi of the late 1950s and is not all that different from what I recall of Barbirolli's performance. Del Mar does manage, however, to remain faithful to the spirit of the work. Hickox gets it wrong, overdoing briskness and missing the underlying range of tensions in Rubbra's music. As things currently stand, we aren't likely to get much more choice, and these are the best available performances of both symphonies. But if you do come across the Intaglio, which contains, beside Boult in the Sixth Symphony, Sir Charles Groves's premiere of the Eighth, then snap it up. For all its faults of recording balance it is a reminder of how we first heard two genuine and individual masterpieces which don't deserve their current relative neglect , still less the oblivion from which this disc helped to rescue them.