Edmund Rubbra: Sinfonia Concertante, Prelude & Fugue on a theme of Cyril Scott Op.69 and Violin Concerto Op.103
The Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra, Op.38, was written in 1934-1936 and revised and rescored in 1942-1943. The composer himself was the soloist in the premiere which took place in a Promenade concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult on 10 August 1943. Rubbra also performed it with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent on 4 July 1946 at the second Cheltenham Music Festival.
The Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Cyril Scott for piano, Op.69, was composed in honour of Scott’s seventieth birthday in September 1949 and premiered by Margaret Good on 5 June 1950 in a BBC broadcast. It is based on three bars from the slow movement of Scott’s Piano Sonata no.1, Op.66.
As part of the Northampton concert of Cyril Scott’s music which Rubbra organised in 1918, he programmed and performed four of Scott’s short solo piano works. Nearly fifty years later, he chose to perform another brief solo piano work by Scott to round off his BBC recital on 9 August 1967, Consolation. In his brief spoken introduction to the broadcast performance, Rubbra described this as ‘one of Scott’s maturest pieces’ written ‘at the height of his powers’ and characterised it as ‘a deeply felt ‘in memoriam’ written as a tribute to a close friend’.
In 1958 he began work on the Violin Concerto, Op.103, finishing it in the summer of the following year. It was premiered at the Royal Festival Hall on 17 February 1960 when the soloist was Endré Wolf with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by its Principal Conductor at the time, Rudolf Schwarz. This first performance was relayed live and the BBC repeated the work in a Maida Vale performance three days later. A recording of that impressive second performance is presented here. Paul Conway
What a treat to encounter Rubbra’s glorious Violin Concerto played by the work’s Budapest-born dedicatee Endré Wolf (1913-2011). This February 1960 broadcast from Maida Vale under Rudolf Schwarz’s baton was only its second performance, the world premiere having taken place three days previously at the Royal Festival Hall. A memorably unforced display it proves, too, plumbing the genuine depths of rapt expression particularly in the ravishing central ‘Poema’ which evinces such a striking kinship with the sublime’ Canto’ slow movement of the Sixth Symphony from 1954. There’s the odd tiny slip and some occasional background swish to contend with but it remains a cherishable document and must be deemed an essential supplement to the concerto’s three commercial recordings from Krysia Osostowicz -(Naxos, 11/05), Carl Pini (Unicorn-Kanchana, 1/87 – nla)- the last -named’s marvellously lucid alliance with Vernon Handley and the RPO being especially praiseworthy (any chance of a reissue, I wonder?)
There’s more buried treasure in the shape of a spirited account of the imposing Sinfonia concertante for piano and orchestra that Rubbra originally completed in 1936 and comprehensively overhauled in the early 1940’s. The composer himself participated in the first performance with Adrian Boult and the BBC SO at an August 1943 Prom and the present BBC broadcast from May 1967 with the CBSO under Hugo Rignold serves as a splendid reminder of his interpretative skills. What a powerful work it is, too, culminating in a deeply felt prelude and fugue inscribed to the memory of Holst (with whom Rubbra had studied at Reading University and the Royal College of Music).
It’s followed here by another Prelude and Fugue, this time for solo piano and based on a theme from the First Piano Sonata by Rubbra’s boyhood teacher, Cyril Scott (1879-1970). Rubbra affords it affectingly serene treatment, as he does Scott’s searching Consolation (1918). Both these items come from a recital transmitted by the BBC in August 1967. Transfers from Richard Itter’s off-air mono tapes have been most judiciously managed and Paul Conway’s copious notes are a real boon. All in all, an issue to savour.Gramophone
Lyrita have been digging down again in the mine that is the Itter Broadcast Collection and they have returned with more buried treasure in the form of these Rubbra performances. The two major works have been recorded in modern times and with the advantage of up to date sound but there is nonetheless great interest in these archive performances, not least in the presence of Rubbra himself at the keyboard. As is evident from his performances here, Edmund Rubbra was no mean pianist and we learn from Paul Conway’s invaluable notes that as a teenager he had fallen under the spell of the music of Cyril Scott to such an extent that he organised a concert of music by that composer.
Rubbra himself played the solo part when the Sinfonia Concertante was first performed, at a 1945 Prom, and here he returns as soloist for this broadcast performance. Cast in three movements, it’s a most interesting work but, for all its excellence as music, I can understand why it has not made much headway: its tone is serious throughout and though the solo part is challenging the work is no crowd-pleasing display piece. The Rubbra/Rignold performance is a strong one, bringing out the dark eloquence of the work, and there’s considerable interest to be had from hearing the composer playing in one of his own major works. The finale, a Prelude and Fugue, is inscribed to the memory of Gustav Holst, Rubbra’s influential teacher and close friend. The Prelude is elegiac and deeply felt, leading to a passionate climax. The Fugue is introduced by the woodwind and the orchestra develops the fugue at some length: it’s not until 7:57 that the piano joins them. From this point on the music is intense, albeit Rubbra doesn’t often raise his voice. Apart from a final soft orchestral chord it’s the piano which has the last word and, as Paul Conway observes, this ending is “deeply affecting.” The Sinfonia Concertante may not be a crowd-pleaser but it’s a sincere and impressive composition.