"I was fortunate to purchase this set in London roughly a month ago. Suffice it to say that it has rapidly become my favorite set of 20th century symphonies (a lofty statement, but I really love this music). The symphonies are lyrical but tautly constructed, easy on the ear but intellectually challenging. Rubbra's symphonies don't really sound like anybody else's, but I'd portray them as a cross between Walter Piston's intelligence and Vaughan Williams's lyricism. Not much dissonance, but enough ear-tickling sonorites to make it interesting from the start of #1 to the end of #11. Great performances, great recording. All in all, a set to treasure."
Rubbra Will Reward
William K. Shurtleff | Houston, TX | 01/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first came across Rubbra a year and a half ago. While in the Dublin Public Library leafing through the CDs I saw a name I hadn't seen nor heard of before. The Symphonies were the 1st and 3rd on another the Lyrita label. Since then I bought Hickox's rendition. I remember first hearing the music: tuneful romanticism was notably absent; but a strong unrelenting quality like an overbearing salesman first tapping, then knocking, then pounding came to my ears. The themes came streaming, constantly mutating, ever advancing, morphing over again on itself, still surging ahead. His music never rests: it is a staunch, granite dynamism. Over time, I have really come to regard Rubbra as a generally ignored genius. His music may be dry compared to the high melodies of Romantic music; but it is a dryness that one learns to cultivate like developing a taste for a good complex wine, where a myriad of complentary flavors enduring pleasantly on the palate is for what one yearns. To really appreciate Rubbra you have to appreciate his developmental mastery; and to do that you have to get him in your head, which will take more than one listening. Don't be daunted if you like him only somewhat after one listening. After getting the music in your head you will be able to step back and see the grand structure of his music, something truly awe inspiring. Give him some patience and he will reward."
A major British symphonist
Dr. Richard M. Price | London, UK | 11/16/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Edmund Rubbra's symphonies received a very mixed reception in their time. Some listeners found their contrapuntal logic absolutely riveting, and complimented Rubbra on making them fall in love with music again. Others, however, found them too single-minded and rather drably orchestrated, comparing them to reinforced concrete or brown wallpaper. Over the years, however, the musical language became more flexible in its sequence and warmer in its harmony. Strict thematic logic is combined in the later symphonies with many a wayward shift in tempo and timbre; it is the combination of logic and freedom (without the logic the freedom would produce incoherence) that makes these works so human and so endlessly rewarding for a listener who is sufficiently sympathetic to the idiom (which is akin to that of Vaughan Williams and Finzi).
These performances do not entirely supersede the Lyrita recordings of the 70s (particularly of the 7th and 8th Symphonies). Hickox's direction of the Fifth is, however, even better than the classic recording by Barbirolli; it is the first recording, in my view, that makes the final epilogue convincing. The high quality of both playing and recording, and Hickox's complete understanding of the musical idiom, make this set worthy of unhesitating recommendation."
Well Worth Acquiring
Barry E. Boothman | St. Catharines, Ontario Canada | 06/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Twenty-five years ago I bought a LP of Rubbra's second symphony and found, after several listens, I really enjoyed his composition. Now, in middle age, my inclinations have increasingly gone to modern composers. Based upon reviews, I bought this set last month from Amazon and it has rarely been out of the CD player since. Rubbra reminds me of 20 year old scotch, a taste that must be acquired but the benefits are so many. His later symphonies are very Brucknerian in dimensions and fascinating. Chandos has, again, done a marvelleous job with the recording and Richard Hickox (who did a spendid job with the Vaughan Williams symphonies) also excels. This CD box now resides in honoured position next to my heavily used sets of symphonies by Arnold Bax, Eduard Tubin, and Gustav Mahler."
Discover a Great Symphonist of the Twentieth Century
Johannes Climacus | Beverly, Massachusetts | 08/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you haven't yet encountered the music of Edmund Rubbra, this superbly played and recorded set of his complete symphonies would be an appropriate place to start. Rubbra may hardly be a household word on these shores, but his reputation has been rising steadily in Britain--largely due to recording projects such as the one under review here. It is a mystery to me why these brilliantly crafted, inexhaustibly inventive, and eminently likeable symphonies have not won a wider following, though perhaps in our fast-paced culture music that requires the listener's total concentration (as does Rubbra's) is not destined to win instantaneous approval.
In any case, the eleven works presented in this box chronicle the development of a highly personal idiom, from the more discursive earlier works (1-4) toward increasing terseness of expression and formal coherence (5-11). Every one of these scores proves an absorbing experience, though the later ones (particularly no. 9, Rubbra's "Resurrection" symphony) approach sublimity.
Rubbra's style is as difficult to classify as that of his contemporary, Robert Simpson. Parallels between these two composers are inevitable. Both composed 11 symphonies; both were influenced by Germanic and Nordic traditions (Bruckner, Nielsen, Sibelius); both bucked the prevailing trends of their day--atonality, serialism, neoclassicism and folk-inspired idioms. Both achieved a structural and contrapuntal mastery that places them among the greatest intellects in the history of music. But there the similarities end. Rubbra is as congenial and reserved as Simpson is irascible and incendiary. Unlike most of Simpson's output, Rubbra's music remains within the orbit of the neo-modal renaissance, much influenced by Tudor polyphony, that prevailed at the beginning of the 20th century in Great Britain. On the other hand, Rubbra's symphonies bear only a superficial resemblance to those of Vaughan Williams. Rubbra is altogether more circumspect, and also tougher (intellectually as well as emotionally) than RVW. If there is any resemblance, it would be to the Vaughan Williams of *Job* and the Fourth and Sixth symphonies, but even there the comparison is misleading.
Indeed, Rubbra was a unique composer, beholden to no school, least of all perhaps to the English "pastoral" tradition. His scores increasingly came to possess a diaphanous, visionary quality that bespeaks his lifelong interest in religious mysticism. Throughout his symphonic canon, one senses a keen mind at work in service of deeper spiritual verities (yet without any obvious "programmatic" element). The symphonies from no. 5 onward are surely masterpieces of the genre, with passages of striking lyrical beauty alternating with denser and darker currents. If I could single out a particular work which shows this composer's prodigious gifts at full stretch it would be no. 7 with its utterly enchanting scherzo flanked by two brooding, elegaic movements, the latter of which is an expansive and brilliantly crafted passacaglia and fugue. The two final symphonies are very brief indeed (12 minutes each), yet manage to say so much about things earthly and heavenly within their compact compass that one is reminded of "seeing eternity in a grain of sand."
The great news for listeners sufficiently intrigued to explore this set is that the performances are uniformly excellent. Hickox and his Welsh BBC forces convey evident affection and intuitive understanding of this often recondite music. Even the less inspired works (nos. 1, 2, and 8 by my reckoning) receive extraordinarily persuasive advocacy. Elsewhere I have had occasion to disparage this ensemble's work (see my review of Otaka's Glazunov cycle on this website), but not here. Lustrous, beautifully shaped and pungently characterful playing from every section! The recording gives this fine group plenty of amplitude without losing clarity of focus.
One would be hard pressed to imagine this magnificent achievement being surpassed any time soon. Indeed, Rubbra richly deserves such first-class advocacy, for he is among the greatest symphonists of the previous century, and his relative neglect is unaccountable.