Edmund Rubbra: Idle Thoughts

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Many moons ago Roger Wright at the British Music Information Centre told me I should get into Rubbra. He told me the music was as good as Tippett’s. H’m, that’s not saying much, I thought. Sadly we don’t hear much of Rubbra on BBC Radio 3 now Roger Wright is the big cheese.

The BBC, pre-Roger Wright, used to mark Rubbra’s anniversaries with some effort; in 1976 I remember they broadcast a series of concerts of his music, specially recorded. My enthusiasm for Rubbra’s music dates from that series. He was quite often composer of the week in the 1980s.

Since his death in 1986 there has been a decrease in broadcasts of his music; but then this has also happened to Tippett since his death. Rubbra’s chamber music is frequently performed, as are the choral works. The orchestral music is never performed professionally; after that 1976 introduction, I had to wait until his 2001 centenary to hear a symphony performed by a major orchestra. They used to have the reputation of being, somehow, not concert hall friendly.

I guess Rubbra is unfashionable in a soundbite age because his music doesn’t jump out at you. Its rewards require careful listening. His chamber music would repay a Naxos series, such as they have done for Howells and Bliss.

I think the two finest Rubbra symphonies are No. 6 and No. 8. I really think that they are, along with Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 9, the finest symphonies written in this country, after World War II. Both have been superbly recorded by the greatly underrated Norman del Mar.

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