John Joubert: Piano Concerto & Symphony No. 3
It was after the premiere of Joubert's First Symphony given by the Hull Philharmonic under Vilem Tausky in Hull City Hall on 12 April 1956 that Russian-born pianist Iso Elinson invited the composer to write him a Piano Concerto. Completed in the summer of 1958, the resulting score is dedicated to Elinson, who gave the first performance of the work with the Hallé Orchestra under George Weldon on 11 January 1959 in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. In keeping with Joubert’s instinctively symphonic approach to large-scale forms, the concerto is more of a sinfonia concertante than a bravura vehicle for pianistic display.
The idea for a musico-dramatic work based on Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre originated in the early 1980s, when the composer took early retirement from the University of Birmingham. This was a labour of love which he embarked upon unprompted and without the security of a commission.
Dedicated to the opera’s librettist Kenneth Birkin and his wife Inge, Symphony No.3 on themes from the opera “Jane Eyre”, Op.178 (2014-17), reworks the five orchestral interludes as five symphonic movements. Originally written for chamber orchestral forces, the material has been re-scored by the composer for a full symphony orchestra.
Born in Cape Town in 1927, John Joubert studied with Howard Ferguson and Alan Bush. He remained in the UK as a lecturer, becoming a full-time composer from 1986.
Joubert’s works are powerful statements, none more than the Third Symphony. He has written eight operas, and the Third Symphony (2014-17) is based on themes from Jane Eyre, reworking the opera’s five orchestral interludes as symphonic movements. Although none of the movements is based on traditional symphonic forms, there is a powerful cogency to Joubert’s writing that underlines its dark-hued intensity. Boughton shapes the surging phrases impeccably; climaxes have a natural inevitability.
Dedicated to and premiered by Eso Elinson, Joubert’s 1958 Piano Concerto unfolds on a large scale, muscular in its outer movements. The orchestra’s role is prominent, with Martin Jones a sure soloist. Rewarding listening. Colin Clarke, Agora Classica
"Last year my Recording of the Year was the release of the superb live performance of John Joubert’s most recent opera, Jane Eyre, issued on CD to mark his 90th birthday in March 2017. I mentioned in my original review of the recording that Joubert had excised quite a lot of orchestral material from the opera’s original score but that he had recycled the music into his new Third Symphony. I’m bound to say that at that time I was unsure when we might get a chance to hear that music but now, thanks to the BBC and Lyrita, we have it here. I’m not sure if the symphony has yet received a public performance. Rather unusually, both of the recordings on this disc were broadcast by the BBC during the summer, several weeks before I received the disc for review, though I missed the broadcast of the concerto.
South African-born, British composer John Joubert, who celebrated his 91st birthday on March 20 of this year, is a fairly conservative writer whose music is not much known outside the British Isles. The Piano Concerto, which dates from 1958, is apparently typical of his oeuvre: sprightly rhythms and an interesting use of chromatics within his essentially tonal style. He uses a very economical four-note theme as the launching pad for the first movement, and although I am not ready to put him in the same category with York Bowen, it is very fine music indeed. Joubert is quoted in the booklet as saying, “Communication is important to me. I want to be understood, enjoyed and used. I do not want to live in the enclosed and artificial world of ‘Contemporary Music,’ but in the repertory of musicians whom I respect, in the schools, in the churches, and in the theatre.” I would think that this brilliantly-played recording would ensure him of that. The second movement I found to be even more original than the first, using almost modal harmonies with a bright wind texture à la Stravinsky, and quite powerful orchestral climaxes that belie its designated tempo of “Lento.”
Another thing I really like about Joubert is that he is very economical in his use of material; none of his music overstays its welcome, and is always fascinating enough to hold the listener’s attention. Nowhere is this more evident than in the last movement of the concerto, which starts with an actual “Lento” theme before moving into the “Allegro vivace.” It’s always a trap for composers to write such movements without sounding as if they are simply recycling material in order to keep the momentum up (think of the last movement of the Schubert Ninth Symphony). Joubert has no such problem, for despite the continual forward momentum his music is always changing and morphing.
The Third Symphony, by contrast, was composed between 2014 and 2017 when Joubert was a young man of 87-90 years old! It is based on “Themes from ‘Jane Eyre,’” but the music is nowhere near as echt-Romantic as the plot of that famous book. Joubert has been quoted as saying that if he had his way he would write opera and “nothing but opera,” and this symphony gave him an opportunity to write “operatically” for orchestra. His themes, again, are lyrical but not maudlin or sappy; his acute sense of harmonic movement precludes such a predictable outcome. The symphony’s five movements are titled “Lowood School – Lento,” “Thornfield House – Lento-Allegro,” “Thornfield Church – Andante-Allegro,” “Whitecross Rectory – Lento-Allegro” and “Thornfield Park – Allegro,” and each is masterfully conceived and executed. Boughton, who is one of my favorite British conductors not widely known here across the pond, gives the music a muscular, dramatic reading that in itself belies its Romantic inspiration. Even such lyrical episodes as the second movement keep the listener on the edge of his or her seat, enjoying the composer’s very personal and fascinating mode of musical progression. None of his harmonic movement is predictable or formulaic; everything is an adventure. This is clearly music that would not be played on most American classical music stations, and thank goodness for that!
In the third movement, Joubert uses dramatic pauses within the opening “Andante,” yet keeps things moving in an interesting way. He then develops the “Allegro” with jumping, asymmetric figures, juxtaposing strings, winds and brass in unusual ways. The only part of the symphony that disappointed me was the very ending of the last movement: to my ears, somewhat predictable and bombastic. Otherwise, it’s a fine piece of music.
I strongly recommend a listen to this CD. It’s well worth your while. Lynn René Bayley, The Art Music Lounge