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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Edmund Rubbra - Symphony No. 1; Sinfonia concertante (Richard Hickox; Howard Shelley)


Composer: Edmund Rubbra
  1. Symphony No. 1, Op. 44: I. Allegro moderato e tempestoso
  2. Symphony No. 1, Op. 44: II. Perigourdine: Allegro bucolico e giocoso
  3. Symphony No. 1, Op. 44: III. Lento
  4. A Tribute, Op. 56: Andante
  5. Sinfonia concertante, Op. 38: I. Fantasia: Lento con molto rubato - Allegro
  6. Sinfonia concertante, Op. 38: II. Saltarella: Allegro vivace
  7. Sinfonia concertante, Op. 38: III. Prelude and Fugue: Lento

Howard Shelley, piano (5-7)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Richard Hickox, conductor

Date: 1995, 1996
Label: Chandos



An important issue. With it Richard Hickox turns to the Rubbra of the 1930s. The First Symphony dates from 1935-7 and the Sinfonia concertante precedes it, though the form in which we know it dates from the early-1940s. In The Music of Edmund Rubbra (Scolar Press: 1993) Ralph Scott Grover tells of the great impression the First Symphony made at its first performance under Sir Adrian Boult in 1937. Parallels were drawn with Vaughan Williams’s Fourth and Walton’s B flat minor Symphony, for like them this is powerful and at times angry music. Robert Simpson described it as a “severe, even stringent piece ... [whose] dogged power is not meant to endear itself to the listener”. Harold Truscott wrote of it demanding “enormous concentration of the listener” and spoke of its orchestration as “persistently thick and without relief”. In fact, he went so far as to say “it’s not primarily an orchestral sound at all and you have to forget colour and concentrate on line development”. I certainly think you could say that evolution rather than development in the conventional sense lies at the heart of its musical processes – as is the case in its immediate successor. It is a tribute to the orchestral balance that Richard Hickox has achieved and the expertise of the Chandos team that the texture sounds as lucid as it does. The tempestuous first movement comes off very well, so does the charming second movement, Perigourdine, a French dance whose eight-bar tune runs through the whole movement like a sort of moto perpetuo. However, it is the powerful slow finale, which is longer than the other two put together, that leaves the strongest and most enduring impression.

The Sinfonia concertante is hardly less substantial or indeed symphonic. Its beautiful and reflective opening almost foreshadows the later Piano Concerto in G major but, as with the Symphony, it is the last movement which resonates longest in the memory. This is a prelude and fugue dedicated to the memory of his teacher Gustav Holst who had died in 1934. It is a searching, thoughtful movement and I would echo Ronald Stevenson’s sentiments. “Such a humbly proud, individual and profoundly-felt work somehow won’t permit me to bemoan it with the customary epithet ‘neglected’: it is the audiences who are being neglected when such a work isn’t performed.” And how eloquently and sensitively it is performed here by Howard Shelley, Richard Hickox and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Both the Symphony and the Sinfonia concertante have taken 60 years to reach the catalogue, and the fact that they are long overdue does not diminish the warmth of their welcome. Congratulations are in order all round, to the artists and the Chandos team.

-- Robert Layton, Gramophone

More reviews:


Edmund Rubbra (23 May 1901 – 14 February 1986) was a British composer. He composed both instrumental and vocal works for soloists, chamber groups and full choruses and orchestras. He was greatly esteemed by fellow musicians and was at the peak of his fame in the mid-20th century. The most famous of his pieces are his eleven symphonies. Jis output as a whole is less celebrated today than would have been expected from its sheer merit and from his early popularity. As an author, Rubbra wrote numerous articles during his lifetime, about both his own music and that of others.


Richard Hickox (5 March 1948 – 23 November 2008) was an English conductor of choral, orchestral and operatic music. He served as Artistic Director of the Northern Sinfonia (1982-1990), Associate Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (1985-2008) and Principal Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (2000-2006). His recording repertoire concentrated on British music, in which he made a number of recording premieres for Chandos Records (he made over 280 recordings for this company) and won five Gramophone Awards.


Howard Shelley (born 9 March 1950) is a British pianist and conductor. He was educated at Highgate School and the Royal College of Music. As pianist he has performed, broadcast and recorded around the world with leading orchestras and conductors. He made many recordings for Chandos, Hyperion and EMI, including Rachmaninov's complete piano music and concertos. As a conductor, he has held positions of Associate and Principal Guest Conductor with the London Mozart Players in a close relationship of over twenty years.


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