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Rubbra: Nine Tenebrae Motets

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Audio CD, April 17, 2001
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (April 17, 2001)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • Run Time: 66 minutes
  • ASIN: B00005A7KA
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #410,162 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Naxos is surely one of the most commendable of record labels for supplying remarkable music at budget price. This for me is one of their best offerings: a chance to assess (for the merest slip of a price) the choral music of a much-neglected yet rewarding twentieth century composer.
In his early life it appeared that Rubbra was to become a railway worker, but he displayed strong talent as a pianist and made a good impression on the composer Cyril Scott, who took him on as a private pupil and led him towards scholarships at Reading and the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Holst. He worked as a music journalist in London before becoming a lecturer - firstly at Oxford and latterly at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He was therefore a deeply scholastic figure, and shaped the musical output of many an aspiring young composer in addition to producing his own output of over 160 works, including eleven symphonies. Little by little, he is receiving greater recognition for these, but he once declared that he most enjoyed working in the choral medium - and this is richly borne out on this disc.
After much soul-searching, Rubbra joined and remained firmly wedded to the Roman Catholic Church, hence most of his choral music is in Latin and reminiscent of Mediaeval and Renaissance polyphony, which he is known to have enjoyed. The "Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici" is an excellent introduction to his curious style: sensitivity to nuances of Latin text; boldly crafted sonorities; harmonies that shift to and fro in a departure from nearly all the rules of tonal composition, bringing a flavour of mysticism to the effect of the music. The "Kyrie" and "Agnus Dei" are particular examples of this; the "Gloria" and "Credo" are somewhat more clearly cut but no less heady.
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Format: Audio CD
Rubbra is best known, if he is known at all, for his symphonies but he wrote a great deal of choral music of the highest quality. He had a mystical turn of mind and, like his teacher, Gustav Holst, was interested in Eastern religions. Catholicism attracted him and he converted from the Anglican faith in the late 40s. He composed a lot of religious music, reaching its culmination in the Sinfonia Sacra. The Tenebrae Motets are the real find here. These are masterpieces of choral writing. You are often on a musical rack, with Rubbra building up the harmonic tension, easing it and then building it up again. The emotional effect is intense. Also on this CD is the Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici and the Missa Cantuariensis (Canterbury Mass). The first was written to celebrate the composer's acceptance into the Catholic church. The Canterbury Mass was written for Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, England, for the Anglican litergy. They are both wonderful works. The Canterbury Mass is notable for the use of an organ accompaniment in the Credo. Rubbra wanted to stress the importance of belief. Finally there is the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, more 'public' and ceremonial than the other works. The performance by the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, under Christopher Robinson is first rate. The recording, though not outstanding, is good. The notes are by Anthony Carwood, and are excellent as you would expect. All this at a bargain price. The disc is one of a Naxos series of choral music by British composers. Others include works by Howells and Britten.
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Format: Audio CD
As we are now a full week into Lent it's time for me to renew my series of reviews on music for Lent and Holy Week. I can think of now more auspicious disc to begin this series this year than Edmund Rubbra's masterful choral music. This is some of the most beautifully crafted and deeply felt music in the English choral literature.
English choral composers tend to fall into two camps, agnostics who wrote occasional music for Anglican services. Quintessential composers in this group include Vaughn Williams, Walton and Howells. The second group consists of composers of deep religious feeling, often devoted Catholics. Both groups have created moving service and church music out of their differing religious attitudes. Rubbra belongs squarely in the second camp. In the 1940s, after a profound spiritual crisis, Rubbra converted to Roman Catholicism. One of the first results of this decision is the Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici. Written for a capella choir, the work is a beautiful and very personal merging of twentieth century modalism with choral counterpoint directly out of the Renaissance. Rubbra's style is not overly adventurous, but his harmonic sense is sure and unique. The parts are not predictable. His harmony expertly shades the meaning of the text.
The centerpiece of this disc is definitely the Nine Tenebrae Motets. The texts for these works come from the Latin service for Matins on Maundy Thursday. They are divided into three "nocturnes" traditionally. Each nocturne deals with a different aspect of the evening of Holy Thursday. The first describes the Agony of the Garden of Gethsemane; the second relates the Betrayal of Judas, and the third details the Trial at Caiaphas' house.
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