Rubbra - Symphonies Nos 5 & 6
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Label: Barbirolli Society
Cat No: SJB1081
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 20th October 2014
Edmund Rubbra established his reputation with his first four Symphonies. But in many ways, Rubbra’s Fifth Symphony may be considered his most immediately attractive. It was premiered on 26 January, 1949 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Adrian Boult at the Royal Albert Hall, but it was Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra’s recording of the work under the auspices of the British Council – the first recording of any Symphony by Rubbra – which had a notable impact and substantially reinforced the composer’s name internationally.
The recording was made in December 1950 at EMI’s No.1 Studio in Abbey Road, London, with Rubbra present. Early commentators were at one in their admiration of Rubbra’s Fifth Symphony, The Times critic in particular singling out the impression that the symphony ‘accords with the famous definition that music is thinking in sound without concepts’, continuing that the ‘slow movement has a grave beauty that is impressive.’ Many also naturally referred to the solo horn tune which opens the Scherzo, noting its genuine instantaneous memorability.
For such a work, no finer choice of interpreter could have been chosen than Barbirolli: the composer himself was forever fulsome in his praise of Barbirolli, and on more than one occasion said of his deep appreciation for what the conductor and his orchestra had revealed.
The Sixth Symphony was the result of a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society, and Barbirolli’s was clearly (if not quite the work’s second performance) one of the earliest accounts the Symphony had received up to that time. This CD includes a previously unpublished ‘live’ recording from the 1956 Cheltenham Festival – taken from Rubbra’s own private collection.
What is quite clear, almost 60 years later, are the depth and concentrated power of Barbirolli’s reading of this great work. Here is music that has the compelling inner drive and utterly convincing grasp of the conductor’s perception – knowing where each phrase is going, and why – the result is a reading such as can never have been exceeded by those conductors drawn to this profound symphony.
Barbirolli’s sense of organic growth is astonishingly convincing, his perception and understanding of this music being a practical demonstration of what Harold Truscott described as prerequisites for musicians approaching Rubbra’s music – ‘application and thought’ – here demonstrated by Barbirolli and his orchestra at the height of their powers.
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