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Everything you might cherish for such a project

MusicWeb International, Rob Barnett

Lyrita serve up three British works for piano and orchestra. These are otherwise unrecorded works – one from each of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Edmund Rubbra was born in Northampton. He was a distinguished and practical pianist as well as a composer and academic. He performed, broadcast and recorded as part of a Trio alongside violinist Erich Gruenberg and cellist William Pleeth. There are several works of his for piano and orchestra; the present 1932 Concerto is not to be confused with the already well-known Piano Concerto from 1956 … The 1932 Concerto, op. 30 was premiered by Kathleen Long and the New Symphony Orchestra conducted by Geoffrey Toye in March 1933. Ultimately, it struggled to find favour with its composer who had misgivings about it, such that the 1956 Concerto was not designated as “No. 2”. The first movement of the op, 30 marries up a true Andante moderato with an Allegro con brio. It starts in self-effacing way and almost surreptitiously. The atmosphere and images are of sun-dappled spinneys, rather like Paul Nash’s Wittenham Clumps. Howells and RVW are kindred spirits here, with the music warm and ecstatic but without the Pan-like supernatural element (so, not Bax). It’s magical stuff, later giving way to “rum-ti-tum” folksy passages. Towards its close there is really splendid work for horn and trombone as well as a seraphic intertwining solo violin. Triumphant Sibelian passages ripple with energy. Marked Larghetto e tranquillo, the central slow movement is slowly tolled out. With its slow sun-struck self-confidence and plangent arpeggiation it recalls the First Piano Concerto of Cyril Scott who was also one of Rubbra’s teachers. The music morphs into the defiant and the bardic in the manner of Bax’s Symphonic Variations but less loquacious, more concise and concentrated. The finale is a jolly Molto vivace in the manner of RVW (Pastoral Symphony and Wasps) and Grainger (Scotch Strathspey and Reel and Green Bushes). The xylophone jangles to sweep the listener along in the action. The work ends abruptly. Even so, there’s a great deal here to like.

The keen-edged and eager performances convince you that Callaghan, the BBC NOW (who as a broadcasting ensemble are well used to breathing fresh life into music outside the mainstream) and the two conductors are everything you might cherish for such a project.

Paul Conway’s utterly indispensable notes support the listener in first recordings of these works (made in association with BBC Radio 3). His writing is packed with factual context and biographical material as well as analysis.

These three works are far from rugged, rebarbative or unapproachable. They appealingly beckon and entreat listeners who need have no misgivings about performances or Lyrita’s engineering.

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