At last! A CD devoted exclusively to the music of Ruth Gipps (1921-99). Born in Bexhill, she was something of a child prodigy, especially as a pianist (she also played oboe/ cor anglais), and entered the RCM in 1937 where her composition teachers were Vaughan Williams and Gordon Jacob. One of her earliest successes, written when she was just twenty years old, was the symphonic poem 'Knight in Armour' which was premiered during the 1942 proms season by Sir Henry Wood. As listeners can judge for themselves, the piece displays a remarkable command of the orchestra for one so young, and already shows traces of Gipps's mature style.
The Symphony No. 4 represents the composer in the full flowering of her maturity and is considered by many to be one of her finest achievements. It is dedicated to Sir Arthur Bliss who thought very highly of the work. It opens with a slow introduction which gradually builds to something more fleet of foot. After further development, the movement rises to a great climax underscored by tam tam before a brief reversion to the opening music draws matters to a close. In the slow movement strings and woodwind solos predominate, although a beautiful sinuous violin solo seems to be at its heart, while the very brief scherzo serves as a kind of sourbet preparing us for the feast of a finale. The symphony as a whole, with its numerous instrumental solos, has the character of a concerto for orchestra. No doubt one can find influences behind the music, including that of the composer's teachers, but by this stage in her career, the characteristic Gipps sound was well-established.
The only one of her five symphonies to have been recorded previously (CLASS CD274) is the Symphony No. 2. Although cast in a single movement, this falls into several sections in which the thematic material is subjected to a variety of treatments, so that it takes on the character of a set of variations. The sprightly 'tempo di marcia', for instance, which reaches a stirring climax before fading into the distance, is followed by a deeply-felt and passionate adagio - surely the heart of the work. It has been remarked that the dramatic nature of the music is redolent of a film score. That may be so, but it is none the worse for that, and in any case, it is 'film music' of a high order.
The Song for Orchestra was written some three years after the Second Symphony and shares something of its sound world. The title of the work suitably sums up its nature. Little more need be said - just sit back and enjoy.
Gipps's music has immediate appeal and should be of interest to anyone hooked on the British symphonic tradition, of which she is a worthy representative. All the music on this programme is splendidly played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Rumon Gamba. I cannot recommend this disc too highly.