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“The Ninth (1973) is Rubbra's most visionary utterance, and its stature has so far gone unrecognised.
(This is its only recording.) Its subtitle, Sinfoniasacra, gives a good idea of its character. It tells the story of the Resurrection very much as do the Bach Passions. There are three soloists: the contralto narrates from the New Testament, while the soprano takes the part of Mary Magdalen and the baritone that of Jesus. Other parts, those of disciples and angels, are taken by the chorus, which also functions outside the action, in four settings of meditative Latin texts from the Roman liturgy or in Lutheran chorales to which Rubbra put verses by Bernard de Nevers. The symphonic dimension is reinforced by the opening motive, which pretty well dominates the work. Its argument unfolds with a seeming inevitability and naturalness that's the hallmark of a great symphony.
Its depth and beauty call to mind only the most exalted of comparisons and it should be heard as often as Gerontius or the War Requiem. This is music of an inspired breadth and serenity and everyone connected with this magnificent performance conveys a sense of profound conviction.
The Morning Watch is one of Rubbra's most eloquent choral pieces. It dates from 1946, and so comes roughly half-way between the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. A setting of the 17thcentury metaphysical poet, Henry Vaughan, it too is music of substance and its long and moving orchestral introduction is of the highest order of inspiration.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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“A mouth-watering reissue comprising four outstandingly eloquent performances. The stand-out item here has to be Howard Shelley's imperious traversal of the big-boned Sinfoniaconcertante for piano and orchestra. Certainly, the opening 'Fantasia' exhibits an exhilarating thematic resource and craggy, almost Bartókian resilience. It's the finale, however, which contains the work's most rewarding, deeply felt inspiration: this is a prelude and fugue of grave nobility, economy and poise, whose elegiac countenance reflects Rubbra's sense of loss at the death of his teacher and good friend, Gustav Holst.
Next comes an affectionate account of A Tribute (Rubbra's 70th-birthday tribute to Vaughan Williams), followed by The Morning Watch, a noble choral setting of Henry Vaughan's mystic poem which possesses a power and radiance that can't fail to impress. Last, but not least, there's Ode to the Queen (1953); employing texts by three Tudor poets (Crashaw, D'Avenant and Campion), it's a charming, 13-minute creation, the two extrovert outer songs framing a Poco adagio etranquillo setting of chaste beauty. Mezzo Susan Bickley is ideally cast, and Hickox tenders bright-eyed support. Superb sound throughout, enormously ripe and wide-ranging.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Howard Shelley is a superb advocate and it is difficult to imagine a better performance [of the Concerto]. The Morning Watch is Rubbra at his most inspired.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition