Monday, February 10, 2020

Music in which Buddhism meets Catholicism


Writing in the 2001 New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians Edmund Rubbra's biographer the American musicologist Ralph Scott Grover described how:
Rubbra's output reveals a unity on two levels: the musical, which is readily demonstrable, and the less easily perceived religous/philosophical, which overrides the musical and encompasses almost everything he wrote. It is universal rather than sectarian, an instinctive blend of the most spiritual and mystical elements of Buddhism and Catholicism. It led to a music that overflows with optimism and a sense of well-being, though the, at times, dramatic and conflictual aspects attest to the hard-won nature of that ultimate peace and reassurance.
SOMM's newly restored and re-mastered release of archive recordings of Rubbra's Second and Fourth Symphonies, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult and the composer respectively, shine a new light on these two important and neglected works. I may trade in a foreign currency, but for my money Rubbra's Fourth, with its daring Con moto first movement, is among the great symphonies of the 20th century. This priceless archive recording captures in miraculously restored sound the composer conducting the premiere of the work played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at a 1942 Prom. (Both symphonies can be heard streamed from the Sonn website. Listen to track 5, the transcendent opening movement of the Fourth Symphony, or live forever in darkness.)

Quite unforgivably the Fourth Symphony has only had one subsequent Proms performance - in 2001 with Richard Hickox conducting the Welsh National Orchestra while recording his invaluable cycle of the Rubbra symphonies for Chandos. Rubbra may not be box office; but both Proms outings showed how the Symphony can be programmed without emptying the hall. In 2001 it was between Ravel's G major piano concert and Elgar's Second Symphony. While the 1942 concert was even more enterprising; I wonder how this programme would sell today?

Prom at 18:00 Fri 14 Aug 1942 Royal Albert Hall
Ludwig van Beethoven
The Creatures of Prometheus
No. 1 Overture
Piano Concerto No 4 in G major
Symphony No. 6 in F major, 'Pastoral'
INTERVAL
Edmund Rubbra
Symphony No. 4, Op 53
World premiere
Gustav Holst
The Planets
No. 3 Mercury, the Winged Messenger
The Planets
No. 4 Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
The Planets
No. 5 Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age

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7 comments:

JMW said...

The premiere program was very long! That can't be done in America today.

MarkAMeldon said...

Bob, I agree with everything you say about Rubbra's 4th Symphony, but, for my money,the De Mar/Philharmonia recording on Lyrita still stands up well compared to the excellent Chandos CD. I shall now purchase the Somm disc.

Now, does anyone remember Benjamin Frankel's music, much of which was recorded by the splendid CPO label by Werner Andreas Albert, who died in November last year, in the 1990s? Although perhaps a slightly tougher nut to crack than Rubbra, Frankel's violin concerto "In Memory of the Six Million" is a moving piece.

Pliable said...

Mark, you are right about Benjamin Frankel and I did broadcast his very fine Violin Concerto back in 2008 - https://www.overgrownpath.com/2008/04/straussian-modernism-and-viennese.html

Sadly one of the many negative impacts of today's dubious wisdom of crowds is that Korngold - whose music is of undoubted merit - is lionised while other deserving contemporaneous composers such as Frankel are ignored until championed by the social media in-crowd.

JMW said...

I believe that Frankel could gain currency if you can convince good conductors to perform him with good orchestras. The music is very meticulous but of indisputable reward. I have personally likened him to something of an English John Alden Carpenter; his music seems to embody the play of a very e=refined mind, one that does not plumb depths, with some exceptions, of course. As always, exposure (that most elusive of artistic commodities) is the key.

Pliable said...

Absolutely right John. Audiences need permission to like unfamiliar music - https://www.overgrownpath.com/2015/02/audiences-need-permission-to-like.html

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post on Rubbra. I imagine that among the "rewards" of your work on this blog in advocating for neglected music that you believe to be of high quality and value, is the knowledge that others have discovered the music through your advocacy. I had never come across the name Rubbra before and began listening with much pleasure to his symphonies on account of your post. Thank you for helping me make this discovery. His music deserves to be programmed!

mathias broucek said...

Rubbra 4 is stunning, isn't it? I personally prefer Hickox to Del Mar but both are pretty good

With Mirga championing Ciurlionis and Weinberg perhaps she can be persuaded?

I'm really hoping a generation of conductors will grow up championing "upper second rate" music. I don't see Rubbra as the equal of Elgar and in the same way Magnard isn't the equal of Debussy (or Miaskovsky/Shostakovich etc) but it would be nice to hear this music in the concert hall at least occasionally...