Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) has to be one of the most under-rated of English composers. And to make matters worse, while his symphonies have gained at least some traction, his songs remain largely unknown, so all credit to the ever-enterprising Chandos Records for this release.
The line-up of performers is superbly chosen, too: Lucy Crowe, Clare Barnett-Jones (new to me) and Marcus Farnsworth, with Iain Burnside on the piano and special guests Timothy Ridout on viola and Catrin Finch on harp.
It is fascinating to hear Rubbra's tender setting of the famous Who is Sylvia? text, set with a sense of beauty that is at the heart of English Pastoralism.
Marcis Farnsworth is one of our finest baritones, as can be heard in this lovely performance of The Night, Op. 14. Burnside's playing is superb, a bed of sound, perfectly calibrated and pedalled, over which Rubbra's ravishing line sings:
Lucy Crowe and Burnside project the mystery of A widow bird sate mourning, Op. 28, to perfection:
If you think there is no drama in Rubbra, the second of the two songs of Op. 22, “Why so pale and wan?” acts as a necessary corrective:
One of the most fascinating songs is In Dark Weather, Op. 33, where the piano part seems to have orchestral ambitions - and the song also holds a superbly strong and pure climactic high-register note from Crowe. And just listen to the clarity of the final note from teh singer:
One of the greatest revelations here is the Two Sonnets by William Alabaster, Op. 87 (1955) for medium voice, viola, and piano. Clare Barnett-Jones' beautiful voice complements the almost vocal viola of Timothy Ridout (who we previously met here):
The set of two songs, Op. 4 (1922) is interesting as it comprises one for solo voice (Crowe), the other for voice and harp. Here's the second, “Jesukin”:
The major work for voice and harp though is The Jade Mountain, Op. 116 of 1962. It is here too that Finch really comes into her own: listen to the second song, “On Hearing Her Play the Harp”:
That mysticism noted earlier returns in spades for the Op. 54 Nocturne - Farnsworth sustains the line brilliantly, and both he and Burnside provide the perfect atmosphere of night:
It is Barnett-Jones who impresses in the Three Psalms, Op. 61 (1946). The music certainly carries a heavy weight in Psalm 6, the first of the set, a Largo that is positively laden. While the melodic line cries out for a true contralto, Barnett-Jones is decidedly convincing:
... and there are none greater contraltos than Kathleen Ferrier, here with pianist Ernest Lush. Indeed, the Three Psalms is dedicated to Ferrier:
The final item is hiarious and skilful in equal measure: Dear Liza, as set by Rubbra (with identifiable Rubbran harmonies).
It is interesting to learn, in the light of Rubbra's supremely confident great of harmony, that he studied with R. O. Morris (1886-1948), whose exercises I myself struggled with at one point in my learnings! Morris' teachings are certainly rigorous and thorough, and it is clear Rubbra took all he could from them. Morris was also the brother-in-law of one Ralph Vaughan Williams, and an introduction wbetween Rubbra and RVW was effected. Stanford and Finzi are also influences on Rubbra's output, but his voice was very much his own.
This is a major release: for the Rubbra discography, for sure, but also for the song repertoire in general.